Cesar Chavez Charter School on Tuesday night formally presented to the Santa Barbara school board its proposal to close and reopen as Adelante Charter School by fall.

The dual-immersion school — where students learn in English and Spanish — has faced the specter of forced closure all year because the test scores of its students haven’t met the school board’s minimum standards for renewing its recently expired five-year charter.

“We are really designing a new school,” said school spokeswoman Lee Fleming, a member of the school’s parent governance council, at the public hearing, which drew hundreds of parent and student supporters. “There’s really not a lot recognizable (of Cesar Chavez) in the new school.”

The Cesar Chavez saga began in October, when its parent organizers went before the school board with the hope of getting their recently expired five-year charter renewed. To the dismay of the Cesar Chavez community, the board was informed by district administrators that the 10-year-old school’s test scores were by far the lowest in the district — and too low for the school to qualify for renewal.

Since November, the school has been scrambling to write an entirely new charter — which is akin to a legally binding constitution — in hopes that the school board not only would approve it, but that it would approve it in time. The deadline is fast approaching.

On Tuesday night, Fleming presented the plan, which outlined Adelante Charter School’s stepped-up emphasis on academic rigor and testing. The new charter calls for more teacher training and evaluation. It would add two weeks to the school year, and it calls for the school to change to a new dual-immersion model, in which all incoming kindergartners — regardless of their native tongue — would spend 90 percent of their day learning in Spanish. That percentage would gradually decrease until fourth grade, when students would spend equal amounts of time learning in English and Spanish. (Currently, students in all grades spend about half their day learning in English, and half their day learning in Spanish.)

Click here to view the proposed charter.

Most board members seemed generally pleased with the proposed changes.

Trustees Susan Deacon and Kate Parker disapproved of a key detail: the school’s request for a five-year charter. Instead, they said three years would be a more appropriate time frame because of the school’s struggles.

“Given the history of the school that Adelante is seceding from, I don’t feel that it would be in the best interests of the students,” Parker said.

The most vocal critic was trustee Bob Noel, who said the proposed new charter sorely lacked a public disavowal of the old school’s practices — and a clear statement spelling out how the new school would be an improvement.

“What I miss (in the new document) is a straightforward statement of what you did wrong, and how you’re going to correct it,” he said.

That appeared to touch a nerve with Fleming, who responded with a catch in her voice.

“We have some families who had children who were really successful at Cesar Chavez and went on to do really successful things,” she said. “It’s really been a sensitive issue for us to say to them, who attended, ‘This school failed.’”

But the most pressing issue of the night turned out to be procedural: The state-imposed deadline for getting board approval is May 5.

The urgency stems in part from the fact that the closing and reopening aren’t a mere formality. It means, for instance, that all teachers and the principal must reapply for their jobs.

The deadline itself is procedural, but important. At its bimonthly meeting on May 5, the California Board of Education will formally approve a batch of new charter schools. If a charter school misses that deadline, it must wait until the next state board meeting in July. That could be a deal killer for a school that needs to hire all new teachers by the start of school.

On Tuesday night, the deadline issue sparked a debate on the school board about whether fast-tracking the process would set an unfair precedent for future charter schools.

Board members Parker and Deacon said they felt uncomfortable with a speedy time frame.

“I want to be careful we don’t set some sort of race precedent — just running through this as fast as we possibly can to accommodate requests from a charter petitioner that may not meet our needs,” Parker said.

School board President Ed Heron and board member Annette Cordero countered that the circumstances in this case are extenuating, in that 250 families and a dozen teachers are waiting on tenterhooks to find out whether there will even be a school to return to in five months.

“I don’t buy the precedent issue at all,” Heron said.

Cordero added, “I personally don’t mind setting a precedent that we would act on behalf of students and staff in an expeditious way.”

In the end, the board decided to hold the next meeting on the issue on April 27. If it doesn’t make a decision that night, it may meet again April 30 — a Friday night. That would allow time for the school — should its new charter be approved — to mail its documents to Sacramento by May 5.

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at rkuznia@noozhawk.com.

— Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at rkuznia@noozhawk.com.