WATSONVILLE — The Santa Cruz County Office of Education Board of Trustees on Thursday evening denied a charter petition for Watsonville Prep, dashing the hopes for the school’s second attempt to open in Watsonville.

The petition passed 4-3, with Trustees Sandra Nichols, Bruce Van Allen, Abel Sanchez and Rose Filicetti voting no.

Hollister-based Navigator Schools has been trying to open the school since early this year, when it asked the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees to approve its charter.

That board denied the 749-page petition in May, and Navigator appealed to the SCCOE Office of Education in June.

By law, charter organizations can appeal to a school district’s governing agency if denied.

PVUSD Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez told the SCCOE board that Navigator’s charter does not sufficiently address the high amounts of English learner students who live in Pajaro Valley.

“They may have been successful with their population, but they have not been successful with our population,” she said.

Several PVUSD teachers have expressed concern that adding a school would draw money away from the district 

Board President Bruce Van Allen said the board had a narrow criteria by which to make its decision. State law does not allow boards to deny petitions based solely on financial concerns, for example.

The approval was contingent on Navigator addressing four concerns by SCCOE staff.

This includes allowing local parents to take part in the school’s governance, adding a transitional kindergarten program and bolstering its services for English language learners.

The board also asked Navigator to outline where the organization intends to build the school.

Under Proposition 39, school districts in California must provide a facility for charter schools located within their boundaries.

That has caused concern for PVUSD, where space is already at a premium and some teachers push their supplies on carts because they do not have a classroom of their own.

Kevin Sved, CEO of Navigator, said Navigator was not willing to give up its Prop. 39 rights, but said that the company is mindful of the concerns and is seeking its own facility.

Several parents hoping to place their children in Watsonville Prep lined up to address the board, as did several teachers who teach at Navigator’s other schools.

Hollister Prep sixth-grade teacher Vanessa said her own negative experiences with traditional education left her looking for an alternative.

“Navigator Schools give the foundation I wish I had growing up,” she said. 

But not everyone in the room was there to support the petition.

PVUSD Trustee Kim De Serpa urged a no vote, and said that the district already has six charter schools.

De Serpa pointed out that Navigator’s charter petition has no plan for special education.

“There’s no plan, which is why we denied this petition,” De Serpa said.

She also said that providing transportation for Watsonville Prep would be a financial burden for the already cash-strapped district, as would giving them a facility.

“Where are we going to get the money for facilities,” she said. “It’s a huge issue — I just can’t imagine.”

SCCOE Trustee Sandra Nichols, who has long been a proponent of bilingualism, said she was “stricken” to see that English Language Learners would not be re-designated as proficient until the fourth grade under the charter.

Nichols acknowledged that the issue would be addressed in the conditional approval, but said she was still bothered by the deficiencies in the original charter.

“Those are something I find so elementary in education services,” she said. “I would identify those as some of the most important things we can do to support out students.”

Trustee Jane Barr, who voted to approve the charter, said that many of the concerns addressed cannot be used to deny the charter.

Trustee Abel Sanchez rejected assertions by many proponents that charter schools are the only way for students to be successful.

“The idea that students need to go to charter schools to be successful is disrespectful to the PVUSD teachers,” he said. “I encourage all parents to work with us to make the schools better.”

Sved said Navigator will appeal Nov. 7 to the California Department of Education.

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