|Board votes to revoke Credo High’s charter
School has 45 days to satisfy demands set by CRPUSD
More than three hours of heartfelt pleas and speeches from students and parents of Rohnert Park’s Credo High School were not enough to sway the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District Board of Trustees from voting to revoke the Waldorf-inspired school’s charter at a special meeting on Sept. 23.
The vote was 4-1, with trustee Leffler Brown being the only no vote, which was appreciated by the standing room only crowd in the Technology Middle School auditorium.
The board has cited fiscal and administrative problems as the reasons it is taking this action. In a letter sent to parents, students and the media, the board says Credo’s persistent enrollment shortfall has resulted in inadequate funding from federal, state and local revenue sources to operate the school in keeping with its charter, and that these problems have persisted since August of 2011. The school district gets a certain amount of money per student from the state and federal government. Credo currently has an enrollment of around 100 students from the ninth through 11th grades.
For its part, Credo insists it has submitted a balanced budget for the 2013-14 school year, but the board disputes this claim. The board’s letter says Credo’s submitted budget does not account for short-term debt in the amount of at least $100,000, overestimates revenue by overestimating student enrollment and the budget inappropriately uses restricted revenue, specifically a grant from the Mazza Foundation and the State Common Core funds.
If anything the meeting lay bare a deep mistrust on the part of both sides, but more so on the part of the Credo supporters.
“Our (Credo’s) mistrust of the district is that they’re continually moving the target,” Credo director Chip Romer said. “We comply with their request and it’s never enough. I think our board and community have gotten to the point to where it’s hard to believe there’s a place that’s enough. It’s on all levels and its ongoing.”
Some of those in the audience had pointed criticism of board members Jennifer Wiltermood and Ed Gilardi, who they say are too eager to close Credo despite having never visited the school.
Finances aside, Credo has been one of the top academic performing schools in Sonoma County. It has recorded the third-highest state test scores of any high school in the county.
Also, some audience members who spoke expressed a deep mistrust of Superintendent Robert Haley.
“I have come to tell you that others beyond the Credo community are paying attention to what you do here,” said Credo parent Jodi Boyle, who lives in Petaluma. “You have been relying on the narrative Superintendent Haley has provided all along, and I suggest you do your own research. I suggest you come to Credo and observe the program for yourself, for you are the ones who will live with this decision on your conscience. Do not hide behind legal language that makes it look like you have no choice.”
The school has some time to satisfy the board’s demands and to raise $100,000 to cover its immediate debt, which includes about $50,000 owed to the school district. In 45 days there’ll be another public hearing. And then within 30 days of that hearing, the board will have to decide whether or not to remove the charter.
Credo seems poised to raise the money. During the public comment part of the meeting, Credo parent Maria Martinez waved a handful of cash and checks totaling more than $63,000, which she said was raised since Sept. 20, when some board members met with parents and Credo administration officials.
“The money all came from donations…there were no loans,” Martinez said. “Actually, $7,000 came from a prospective Credo parent, whose kids will be coming to the school a couple of years down the road.”
Said Romer, “I believe we’ll raise the rest of the money.”
Members of the board said they were impressed by the outpouring of support to keep the school open, but expressed regret that it came too late.
“One of the things that really bothered me is we’ve had this discussion for a year and a half ago and it’s come down to the last minute before there’s been energy out there,” Gilardi said. “When we were bringing up financial issues and a number of issues and trying to work to resolve some of these problems, it was always put off to another day. My biggest worry is what's going to happen tomorrow. We have to think of tomorrow for our entire school system.”