East Palo Alto to get $500,000 for teachers

Charter-school deal will also help struggling Ravenswood district meet federal standards

In a deal that will put more teachers in East Palo Alto schools and help them meet federally mandated improvements, the Ravenswood City School District will sponsor a charter high school previously slated for sponsorship by the Sequoia Union High School District.

The Ravenswood school board voted Thursday to instruct Superintendent Maria de la Vega to draft a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Sequoia Superintendent Pat Gemma to support the petition from Aspire Public Schools, Ravenswood board President Chester Palesoo said.

The vote was 3-2, with members John Bostic and Jacqueline Wallace-Green dissenting.

The proposed plan — which will form the basis for the MOU — says Ravenswood would sponsor Aspire Public Schools' charter in exchange for $500,000 annually from the Sequoia district.

It would have cost Sequoia about $1 million annually to sponsor the school, Sequoia board member Gordon Lewin said earlier this month.

But now the district can save money while Ravenswood can use the money to hire more credentialed math and science teachers at middle schools, he said.

Middle-school students from Ravenswood eventually end up in Sequoia's high schools, making improving teaching good for both districts, Palesoo said.

He called the agreement a "win-win situation."

Ravenswood is currently under "Program Improvement," a designation of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 that requires districts to improve test scores or face federal sanctions.

More teachers would help students, thereby helping the district meet federal requirements, Palesoo said.

Ravenswood was also listed as one of 97 districts requiring state intervention earlier this month.

The intervention would come from the San Mateo County Office of Education, whose superintendent, Jean Holbrook, attended Thursday's meeting to review the district's to-date efforts to meet the federal standards, Palesoo said.

She urged the board to form the agreement with Sequoia, he said.

Last month Sequoia board members vowed to support Aspire's petition, but called for one last round of negotiations with Ravenswood to see if the other district could be persuaded to do so instead.

Sequoia is a basic-aid district that doesn't receive additional state money per extra pupil, Sequoia Board President Lorraine Rumsley said.

Supporting the charter would have cost $1 million annually, Lewin said. But Ravenswood, a revenue-limit district, does receive more state money per pupil.

Yet Ravenswood Superintendent de la Vega expressed doubt before the board's Thursday vote, wondering if the district had enough time or staff to oversee a new high school.

Ravenswood denied Aspire's initial petition 18 months ago largely because incoming board members feared they weren't experienced enough with high schools to supervise the school well, according to Aspire CEO Don Shalvey.

But he said he thought Sequoia could help Ravenswood supervise the secondary school, adding processes such as teacher credentialing and school accreditation are very different at primary and secondary levels.

Aspire already operates the K-8 East Palo Alto Charter School with a charter from Ravenswood.

Locating the high school in East Palo Alto saves students from a daily commute north to Redwood City, he said.

The school in question, the 60-student Phoenix Academy, will grow to 300 students with an official charter, he said.

Aspire plans to conduct a $6-8 million capital campaign to transform the 40,000-square-foot former industrial complex currently housing the school on Bay Road into a proper high school, he said.


Like this comment
Posted by Kidding Me?
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 17, 2008 at 10:32 am

So dollars that were paid for from property owners from one ditrict are having their money routed to another district? Oh socialism is coming so quickly.... This is going to lead the government to giving out coupons for new television signal convertors...oh wait that is happening too.

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 17, 2008 at 5:38 pm

East Palo Alto IS in the Sequoia Union High School District and their tax dollars go to support that district, so the money isn't leaving the district. It is going to support the charter school, which is the same for all charter schools. This seems like a good solution for both the residents of EPA and the Sequoia district given the alternatives.

Like this comment
Posted by Kelly
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 9, 2008 at 12:20 pm

I am always shocked at the blatant sense of selfishness in the affluent communities surrounding East Palo Alto and even Redwood City. These kids are part of our larger community and deserve an education. Kidding me? may very well be writing from his/her $2mil house, sipping imported coffee after shuttling the kids off to private school donned in their best Juicy wear. How embarassing for us all...I KNOW that all of our residents DO NOT share those cynical sentiments and I hope Kidding me? gets out there and does something nice for someone who has a little less today.

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