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Orange County

7 Charter Schools to Be Closed

State regulations on funding and location squeeze a company that runs specialized high schools, including one in Westminster.

August 04, 2004|Joel Rubin | Times Staff Writer

A beleaguered charter school company, the state's largest, is closing seven of its Southern California high schools, forcing more than 1,200 students to seek other options.

Among those closing is the 800-student Abrazar campus in Westminster, which serves mostly older students who are no longer supported by state funding.

California Charter Academy has run the seven schools -- it operates more than 60 statewide -- under a charter agreement with the Orange Unified School District. The board of directors for those seven schools voted unanimously Monday night to surrender its charter, saying it could no longer operate in the wake of state regulations, adopted last month, that cut funding for students older than 19.

The move also comes as the California Charter Academy struggles under a new state law that bans the company's practice of opening campuses far from their sponsoring school districts.

Charter schools use innovative teaching methods and are largely independent, but must be approved by school districts, which are financially liable for them.

The seven campuses -- in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties -- served 1,260 students.

Gloria Reyes, executive director of a nonprofit organization that ran the academy's Abrazar campus in Westminster -- where 90% of the 800 students were older than 19 -- said the change ended plans for classes this fall.

"It is no longer viable," said Reyes, who is also chairwoman for the charter board of directors overseeing the seven schools. "I wish we could educate these students without state funding. But we can't."

Last year, charter schools received about $5,600 from the state for each student, roughly equal to funding for public school students.

The academy's decision to relinquish its charter comes as Orange Unified was moving to revoke it.

For more than a year, Asst. Supt. Thomas A. Godley said, district officials have raised a litany of management, financial and teaching concerns with academy leaders and given them until Aug. 15 to respond. In light of the Monday vote, district trustees are expected to revoke the Academy's charter.

Gary Larson, a spokesman the California Charter Schools Assn., said California Charter Academy had been criticized by charter school advocates for operating far-flung campuses and targeting older students.

Reyes worried that the school closings would prevent many of the older students from earning a diploma, although those students also have the option of earning general education degrees at community colleges.

"They wanted to come back to school, and we took away all the barriers for them," she said. "If [their children] need baby-sitting, we would provide it. If they needed transportation, we would help."

Reyes expressed hope that a compromise bill now in the Assembly, which would provide partial funding for such students at charter schools, will become law. If it does, her nonprofit may apply for its own charter with the Huntington Beach Union High School District, she said.

Times staff writer Sandra Murillo contributed to this report.

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