By Janell Gore | South Kern Sol

Tuesday night Kern County Board of Education approved the Central for Arts and Technology (CAAT) petition to build a charter school with a memorandum of understanding (MOU). The approval was made despite community feedback and recommendations from staff to deny it. 

The charter school had originally been denied in August of 2022 by the Bakersfield City School District (BCSD), where the school will be located. The petitioners filed an appeal to the Kern County Board of Education. 

The Dolores Huerta Foundation (DHF) held a press conference before the meeting asking the board to vote no. Three issues the foundation stated about the petition were gaps for English language Learners, students with disabilities, and students who will need transportation. 

“We are here today urging the board to hear from their constituents and vote no. We want a better education and opportunities for students and we know that the Central for Arts and Technology will not provide that,” said Ashley De La Rosa with the DHF. 

LYFE (Liberated Youth for Empowerment) youth members from DHF also spoke during the press conference not only to say they were against the school but to discuss how the petitioners made them feel after they spoke against the petition at BCSD. 

“We LYFE youth members received criticism from the petitioners and board member Zimmerman for the lack of knowledge and understanding of the petition and how it will affect all BCSD students,” said Salvador Contreas. “Their comments make it seem as if young people do not have the capacity or ability to understand how charter schools can negatively impact students, especially those with the most needs.”

Lindsay Appell, an attorney with Disability Rights California, spoke during the press conference and the public comment portion of the meeting. 

“DRC urges the Kern County Board of Education to deny the CAAT appeal because its petition violates the law and will harm students with disabilities,” said Apell. 

Appell stated that the petition violates the law by not having specialists needed for students with disabilities such as therapy and speech services accounted for in their budget. 

“CAAT can not offer any of these services because its budget fails to fund the staff that provides them. The CAAT completely disregarded students with disabilities when it designed its budget and as a result, it will repeatedly violate students’ rights if this petition is granted,” said Apell. 

These concerns continued into the board meeting from community members during the public comment portion. Community members also spoke in favor of the petition. 

Kern County Chief Administrative Officer, Ryan Alsop, and his wife Melissa Alsop spoke in favor of the school and discussed that one of their children went to a charter school. Similar to each person speaking in favor of the school, they stated a wanting parent to have a choice where to send their kids. 

“Kern County parents, particularly Latino and Black parents and those from low-income families are demanding public school choice as an option within the public education system which traditional public schools do not provide the best fit or altogether failing them and their children,” said Ryan Alsop. 

The public comment portion continued for a little over an hour with each side explaining their reasonings for denial or support. During the public comment portion, the audience was filled with remarks from either side giving disapproving remarks to the other. While translation services were not provided by the board, a translator was present and assisted those who wanted to comment in Spanish. The translator assisted several speakers despite someone from the crowd yelling out asking for the commenter to speak in English. 

After the public comment portion, the Kern Board of Education staff presented their findings on the petition done by their legal counsel. These findings led them to encourage the denial of the petition. 

As presented by Lisa Gilbert the following were five findings that led to this conclusion: 

  1. The CAAT Petition did not include the required number of valid signatures.
  2. The charter school presents an unsound educational program for the pupils to be enrolled in the charter school
  3. The petition presents an unsound educational program for English Language learners. 
  4. The petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the petition.
  5. The petition does not contain reasonably comprehensive descriptions of all of the 15 required elements.

Some of the elements included in the presentation were:

  • Providing one meal a day to students when Ed Code requires two meals a day be available for students who need them. 
  • Expulsion from CAAT is final with no appeal
  • Priority of students being accepted into the school

According to the presentation students from BCSD will be fourth on the list of priority for available seats in the school. Siblings of current students and children of staff will have higher priority. 

The main source of the recommendation of denial was the petition not having the required number of signatures. According to William Hornback, the petition requires that half of the teachers that are intended to be hired sign the petition. Written in the budget portion of the petition 19 teachers are expected to be hired. Hornback stated that the petition says there will be “17 regular teachers and two special ed teachers” the petition had nine signatures. 

Due to nine not meeting the requirements Hornback explained that the board could be held liable in the future and open themselves up to lawsuits. Although the MOU would protect the board with the other three findings it does not cover the signature requirement. 

Joanna Kenderick, a founding member of CAAT, stated that the 19 teachers listed is a mistake and there will be 17 teachers hired including the two special ed teachers. Hornback still urged denial because the board has to approve or deny the petition based on what was written and submitted. 

Jose Gonzalez, area four board member, asked petitioners why not take the petition and fix each of the findings and then submit it again, Kinderick explained it would put them in a riskier position. 

The petition was approved with all but Gonzalez and Paula Bray of area 5 voting yes. 

Addressing the concern of transportation not being provided for each student Ronald Froehlich, area one board member and president of the board, said parents will find a way. 

“If you want to go to those schools you find a way to take them. I know it’s a hardship on some people but I think there needs to be some equality in this world,” said Froehlich. “I think you want your kids to go to that school you find a way to get them there. We do.”

After the approval, Kenderick explained she is excited to bring the bring school to Bakersfield. In response to the concerns about the school, she stated that they were typical of charter schools. 

“I think that main of the concerns that were expressed tonight are typical things that people say against charter schools. There weren’t a lot of concerns that specifically addressed concerns in this charter petition and we’re ready to work with the community. Even those who opposed us.”

De La Rosa stated that she was not surprised by the approval and that the youth were disappointed in the decision. She stated that the petition does not address students with disabilities and English language learners so it will serve an elite community. 

“The petition doesn’t really address this because we’re assuming that the people that they want in their schools are not students of English language learner background, are not students with disabilities,” said De La Rosa. “Instead catering to the downtown folks that have the privilege of transportation and folks that are well overall elite in Kern County.