Citing a number of flaws, a third Santa Barbara County school district board has denied a petition for Olive Grove Charter School, with others in line to also reject the request.
The Santa Maria Joint Union High School District Board of Education turned down the Olive Grove petition Tuesday night without comment.
“District staff and legal counsel spent a significant amount of time to carefully analyze the petition and the accompanying documents to determine whether the petition was completed with the legal requirements for approval,” attorney William Schuetz Jr. said.
“Based on our analysis, we have determined that more than one of the legal grounds for approval have not been met, so staff and legal counsel are recommending denial tonight,” he added.
Olive Grove representatives did not speak during Tuesday night’s meeting.
However, Executive Director Laura Mudge said later that the denial affects students whose educational needs were not being met by the high school district.
The action comes after two other districts — Santa Barbara Unified and Lompoc Unified — already had denied the requests submitted earlier this year, which were the subject of previous public hearings.
The Orcutt Union School District board will take up the matter Wednesday night, and the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District will consider the petition at an April 18 meeting, but Superintendent Scott Cory said in February he would recommend denial.
And the Buellton Union School District will consider the matter at the April 19 meeting.
Olive Grove leaders undertook efforts to get the local districts to approve their learning centers — in Orcutt/Santa Maria, Buellton, Santa Barbara and Lompoc — following a court ruling involving another charter school. Under that ruling, the Olive Grove learning centers don’t meet the law.
“We’re just looking to save the locations we have for past 15 years,” Mudge told Noozhawk early in the process.
Olive Grove began in the 2001-02 school year, when it first fell under the Los Olivos School District.
In July 2015, the California State Board of Education authorized Olive Grove Charter School to continue serving students in Santa Barbara County.
The school serves approximately 400 students, including those competing in sports or the entertainment industry or who leave existing campuses typically due to bullying or other social issues.
“We’re small but we serve the needs of students looking for an alternative,” Mudge said.
To comply with the ruling, Olive Grove this year sought approval from six local school districts where its learning centers exist.
Mudge added that Olive Grove Charter School has been in good standing with the state board.
In denying or recommending denial, the various district officials contended Olive Grove “fails to demonstrate that it maintains a ‘sound educational program,” and question the school’s financial stability.
They also expressed doubt about how six independent districts could effectively oversee a charter school.
Santa Barbara school district leaders also said the Olive Grove petition failed to include specific information regarding the educational programs.
“This vagueness is troubling since Olive Grove is not a newly established charter school, but has been operating in one form or another for 15 years, and it proposes essentially the same educational program that it has been operating for the last two years under the SBE (State Board of Education) charter,” Santa Barbara Unified staff said.
Other milestones used to measure a school’s success are lacking or show poor results, including the new state assessment system, the Santa Barbara Unified report said.
While test results were not available for 2014-15, results listed for the second year were “weak” for English language arts and “dismal” for math.
Santa Barbara Unified also doubts financial data for Olive Grove, saying the information is “incomplete, not transparent and contains a number of questionable assumptions both as to enrollment/revenues and expenses that cast doubt on whether Olive Grove will be fiscally able to carry out its charter responsibilities.”
Additionally, Santa Barbara officials noted average daily attendance — the number schools report to receive state funding —exceeded its enrollment from 2011 through 2016.
“This is suspect due to ADA is always lower than enrollment due to absences and other reasons. This indicates that Olive Grove may be overstating its revenue,” Santa Barbara Unified staff report said.
Superintendent Cory of the Santa Ynez high school district also questioned the program’s financial stability, noting the school needed loans to “float” the budget.
Orcutt officials noted Olive Grove entered into a third lease addition to expand the Orcutt/Santa Maria site by 270 square feet despite uncertainty caused by the court ruling.
The fact school officials executed the lease addendum amid uncertainty “demonstrates poor management” and calls into question the facility to successfully operate the school, Orcutt Union staff added.
Olive Grove representatives plan to appeal the denial to the Santa Barbara County and intends to take the matter to the state board, if needed. Mudge said they are confident all four Santa Barbara County learning centers ultimately will be approved.
“We are here to provide a safe, caring and positive learning environment for the students that are not making it in the traditional system due to medical reasons, bullying issues, truancy issues, pregnant/ parenting teens, teens that are into professional sports and GATE students that need to work at a higher level to remain engaged and successful,” Mudge said.
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.