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Watsonville
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November 30, 2020

New charter school is hurting our community

Navigator Schools, which runs Watsonville Prep on the grounds of E.A. Hall Middle School—and will soon expand to Ann Soldo Elementary School—should find its own space as soon as possible. In the meantime, the organization should immediately pay back the hundreds of thousands of dollars Pajaro Valley Unified School District has spent to accommodate it.

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When Navigator Schools submitted a petition to open a new charter school in Watsonville, PVUSD staff found the application lacking in several key areas, and determined that the organization could not deliver a sound educational program.

The district’s Board of Trustees agreed, and denied the petition. The board also expressed concern about the cost that the district would incur by the addition of the charter. This included a loss of Average Daily Attendance revenue—which Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez has estimated will be $4 million per year once the school is running at capacity.

Undeterred, Navigator appealed to the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, with claims that they fixed the inadequate portions of their petition. Still, the county office denied the petition on similar educational grounds, and echoed PVUSD’s financial concerns.

Navigator made a final attempt at the state level in January 2019, and the California School Board approved the petition. 

This pushy, by-any-means-necessary process was made more difficult in California late last year by Assembly Bill 1505, which allows districts to deny new charters if they are academically redundant with other already established charters, or if they pose a significant threat to the district’s financial status.

That bill does nothing to address PVUSD’s current concerns, yet it shows that Navigator’s approval was the result of an archaic set of laws for charters that had been abused and were in dire need of an update.

Navigator CEO Kevin Sved and his colleagues have stated that Navigator’s schools—they also run Hollister Prep and Gilroy Prep—deliver instruction and educational opportunities not found in public schools. This is not only patently false, but it is also a slap in the face to the hardworking educators and school employees who tirelessly deliver quality education to the district’s 18,000 students.

Are there deficiencies in PVUSD? Yes, as there are in all school districts. But they must be addressed by all participants—administrators, teachers, counselors, parents and students. It is selfish for parents to pull their children out of the district’s schools, seeking greener pastures instead of helping to bolster their community. Study after study has shown that these choices are detrimental to the public school system and the community members that depend on districts for employment such as teachers, mechanics, athletic coaches and janitors. And especially to the students.

Perhaps the most outrageous part of this saga is that Navigator sold itself to parents by criticizing PVUSD, and now draws resources and revenue from the same district. PVUSD deserves blame for allowing the gap between itself and some of its concerned parents to grow. The parents that sided with Navigator instead of their community also deserve some of this blame. Navigator—a nonprofit that two years ago made more than $10 million, according to Pro Publica—is also at fault for stoking the fire of parents’ fears of their child being left behind and ignored.

Finger-pointing aside, we, as a community, are all weaker for this decision. Even if Watsonville Prep’s spurious claim that they provide a higher standard of education than public schools is true, only 420 students will be given access to those lessons. The rest, as some parents feared, will be left on the outside with fewer resources to enact the changes needed to improve the district for all.

Under California law known as Prop 39, districts must provide space for all the schools located within their borders. PVUSD spent more than $500,000 preparing E.A. Hall Middle School for Watsonville Prep.

After the charter organization made a new Prop 39 “request” this year, the district found space at Ann Soldo Elementary School. The Trustees approved the placement on May 13. It’s still not clear how much the district will spend preparing that school.

Navigator officials have repeatedly said how excited they are to be a part of the district, among other similar platitudes. Those words ring hollow. It is clear the charter organization is at best indifferent to the financial concerns of PVUSD. 

The organization is now an unwanted guest in the district, blithely occupying space meant for district students, and siphoning away funds meant for their education.

Now, with budget cuts caused by the coronavirus pandemic a certainty, their presence will further deepen the untold damage caused by the disease.

Sved correctly said that it is within his legal rights to make “requests” for space. But he has repeatedly deflected questions about the financial damage his organization has wrought upon PVUSD.

Just because an act is legal, does not make it right. 

Mr. Sved, PVUSD is now facing budget cuts, which will be worsened by your school’s presence. Do the right thing for both your students and the community. Stop taking money and space from the district.

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Reach Managing Editor Tony Nuñez at [email protected]

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