CUSD douses charter school

Having already missed a deadline for a $350,000 grant, proponents of John Dewey Middle School learned April 2 that the Chico Unified School District would not be supporting its efforts for a new school at all.

Not only that, Chico Country Day School’s middle-school classroom was ordered vacated due to fire code violations that were discovered during the charter school debate.

Supporters of the John Dewey Middle School, which include parents, teachers and Chico State professors, now plan to try to get a charter under the Butte County Office of Education (which previously approved a charter the CUSD had denied) or the state.

“We need to have a group that is not threatened by a charter,” said proponent Brad Mentzel after the meeting. “We’ll try again. I have to hear it from somebody who wouldn’t lose money through ADA [average daily attendance].”

The board’s unanimous vote followed the strongly worded advice of Superintendent Scott Brown, who called the charter “ill-defined.” Brown said the CUSD could legally deny the charter based on findings that it is unlikely to be successfully implemented. Enrollment numbers couldn’t be proved, the grant was acquired and spent in a way Brown considered questionable, and based on the predominantly white Chico County Day School, it’s doubtful the middle school could create the diversity it promised to seek.

“I have absolute pause created over facilities,” said Brown, who then revealed that after the Butte County Fire Department contacted CCDS repeatedly about fire code violations to no avail, it decided last week to shut down the middle-school classroom effective April 4.

Proponents seemed more wry than defeated after the meeting.

“This was totally expected,” said Mentzel, who helped found CCDS back in 1996. He said he was baffled as to the board’s problem with the school.

He acknowledged that the middle-school room didn’t have alarms or a sprinkler system, but it’s the same room that had been used by the CUSD’s independent-study program. “We followed them in assuming that they had the proper permits,” Mentzel said. “That’s hardly fair that they’re bringing that up now.”

This week, CCDS Principal Jeff Plotnick said the school is looking for a new facility for its 67 middle-school students—perhaps even space "graciously" offered up by the CUSD. "We’ve got a couple of options, but right now things are up in the air," he said.