Rocketship backs down on 20 Santa Clara County Charters

SuperiorCourtSantaClaraResizedRocketship this week announced that it would settle a lawsuit filed by 4 local San Jose school districts.  Alum Rock, Evergreen, Franklin-McKinley and Mount Pleasant school districts filed suit against Rocketship and the Santa Clara County Board of Education (SCCBOE) in February of 2014 over the unprecedented mass approval of 20 Rocketship schools in 2011.   Rocketship had bypassed local districts in 2011, going directly to the County Office of Education for mass approval of 20 schools.  At that time, district officials complained that Rocketship had side stepped state laws that suggest charters go to local districts before approaching the county.  Rocketship argued in 2011 that a larger impact could be made with the mass approvals, and that local districts weren’t doing enough to close the achievement gap.  At the Dec 14th, 2011 SCCBOE meeting, Rocketship made a number of promises in order to receive approval.  However, the charter operator was not able to keep those promises.  Rocketship officials promised to keep schools above an 875 API, to keep locally controlled boards for all schools, and to relinquish county charters when local districts approved charters.  Rocketship’s privately held corporation reneged on each of those promises, as outlined in a series of investigative reports on this website.

The SCCOE has faced a revolving door of superintendents since the board’s 2011 decision that angered many of the 39 school districts in the county.  That 2011 decision was made under Superintendent Charles Weis, who quit the job in 2012 and left the county’s taxpayers on the hook for an interest free $900,000 home loan that was a part of his hiring bonus.  When former SCCOE superintendent Xavier de la Torre left his post in 2014, he indicated that his departure was the result of the board’s brash approval of the 20 Rocketship schools, which had sullied his relationships with school boards he had hoped to serve.  New Superintendent Jon Gundry has made healing those wounds a priority since he was granted the lead job at the SCCOE in July of 2014. It is likely that the settlement of this lawsuit is an outward attempt to regain the support of the local districts in Santa Clara County.

Earlier this month, De La Torre seemed to blame his board for the difficulty in establishing rapport with the superintendents of Santa Clara County’s 31 school districts: It was because they were so angry about his bosses’ 2011 approval (before his tenure) of 20 Rocketship charter schools. “Oftentimes it would come up in conversations — that decision demonstrated an absence of thoughtful and deliberate process,” he said. “I wasn’t part of it, but I was certainly aware of the aftermath and impact it had on the relationship with some superintendents.” Sharon Noguchi quoting former SCCOE superintendent Xavier de la Torree 

Animosity between county board members and local districts have been at an all time high due to brash comments and actions by Santa Clara County Board of Education members.  As one example, comments by long time board member Joseph DiSalvo at the October 19th, 2013, Charter School Workshop are posted below.  In those comments, trustee Di Salvo suggests closing three downtown San Jose Unified schools and replacing them with charters, actions which local communities would outright reject.  Earlier in the meeting, Superintendent Xavier De La Torre describes the process by which 38 county charters have been approved, likening the process to the unethical lobbying of a board member prior to filling an opening in an organization.

 Districts have to be willing to close their traditional public schools that aren’t working on behalf of children, and that’s what some of these collaborative [charter school] compacts do….I have this elected role, small role, but it’s become bigger in my mind, and um, let me see my other notes here…    SCCBOE Trustee Joseph DiSalvo October 19th 2013 Charter School Workshop
It’s one thing that is very unique with this county …  A lot of County Offices [of Education] do not welcome individual audiences with charter management organizations, they think that that’s inappropriate to meet with them individually and be lobbied by them individually before the [charter school approval] decision.  The analogy that they shared is that it’s like when you have an opening in your organization — anyone who reaches out and tries to contact a board member prior to the selection process concluding would be dismissed from the selection process.  The [charter school] petition is supposed to speak for itself, it shouldn’t’ require individual side meetings with board members to campaign on behalf of the petitions.  It’s something that other county boards either resist or don’t allow.     County Supertindent Xavier De La Torre October 19th 2013 Charter School Workshop

The full length audio file may be heard by following this link.