In a stunning development, school officials in the High Desert community of Adelanto announced late Tuesday that parents aiming to transform their low-performing school into a charter campus had failed to collect enough signatures under the state's landmark parent trigger law.
Shortly after the announcement, the school board voted 5 to 0 to accept Supt. Darin Brawley's recommendation to reject the petition. Brawley reported that the district could verify only 235 signatures of 466 submitted; among the signatures thrown out were 97 from parents who revoked them, saying they were misled or had signed in error.
The announcement disappointed many in the crowd, who believed that the charter school petition signed by parents representing 70% of the 665 students at the school would be enough. But other parents who opposed the petition were pleased, saying that they wanted to give the new principal, David Mobley, a chance to improve the school without the upheaval of a charter conversion.
Charter schools are publicly financed, independently run and mostly nonunion.
The Adelanto effort began several months ago, when former school board member Lisa Marie Garcia and former Desert Trails Principal Larry Lewis informed parents about the law. The group, frustrated by the difficulty of removing ineffective teachers and the school's low test scores, among other issues, wanted to use the law to acquire the power to hire a principal with a freer hand to hire and fire teachers, according to Doreen Diaz, a parent leader.
The parents contacted Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles-based educational nonprofit group that lobbied for the law, to help them organize and train. They surveyed families about their desired improvements, voted on objectives and circulated petitions in the fall.
But the group's strategy raised questions. Rather than presenting one petition for a charter school, Desert Trails parents presented two — one to make changes within the district and another to convert to a charter. Parents preferred district reforms as outlined in the first petition, but turned in the charter petition to pressure the school district to embrace the requested changes, according to Parent Revolution Organizing Director Pat DeTemple.
Parent leader Cynthia Ramirez said the strategy was clearly explained to parents, verbally and in written material.
But at least some parents said they did not understand what they were signing.
Julie Rodriguez, a parent of two Desert Trails children, said she was misled. She said she told organizers that she did not want a charter school and was assured the petition would merely help parents remove ineffective teachers and bring more resources to the school. When she found out that she actually signed a petition for a charter school, she rescinded her signature.
The two-petition strategy also raised concerns from Carlos Mendoza, school board president.
"That really sounds like bait and switch," he said. "It's not clear what is the will of the parents."
Ross Swearingen, Adelanto assistant superintendent, said parents approached the district in November with a list of demands, including full-time nurses, counselors and smaller classes. He said he asked if the list was negotiable and was told no.
The school board declined to meet the demands because they were too expensive at a time when severe state funding cuts were eliminating those services at many schools, he said.
Swearingen, who along with Mobley has helped turn around low-performing schools in other districts, said he continued discussions with parents, which were civil. But in the end, the parents decided to pull the trigger and move toward a charter school.