Defensive posturing

Chico Green School goes on the defensive

Chico Green School has sent a mostly indignant response to accusations by its chartering agency, Chico Unified School District, that it has violated its charter and the state’s open-meeting law.

The new sustainability-oriented charter school met a Nov. 12 deadline, sending 18 pages of documents that refute the district’s accusations point by point. Green School also balked at making some of the promises the district was clearly seeking. In the view of CGS Board Chairman Kent Sandoe, CUSD’s second notice on Oct. 20 was unjustified.

“There’s no evidence whatsoever that we’ve broken the law,” Sandoe said in a recent telephone interview. “The notice is unreasonable; the district is over-reaching.”

CUSD’s letter—officially called a “Notice of Violation and Notice to Remedy or Face Revocation”—was signed by Superintendent Kelly Staley and obtained after this reporter made a Public Records Act request of the district. It ordered the school to take 16 steps and respond by Nov. 12 or risk having its charter revoked.

The district sent the public charter school the first notice on Sept. 9, and Green School responded by producing a hefty binder of documents. The CUSD Board of Trustees then requested an investigation. Trustees indicated they were particularly concerned about Green School’s decision to accept 11th-graders during its first year of operation, and whether the school could attain accreditation by the time those young people graduated.

CUSD’s second notice states there are “indications” the Green School “has violated the law and its charter.” It notes that the Education Code permits intervention if an independent charter school commits a “material violation” of its charter or violates a law, and says the public hasn’t been given full access to Green School meeting agendas and minutes.

Sandoe said that, before Chico Green School had a site, agendas were posted on the porch of his home on various occasions in order to meet the legal requirements of the Ralph M. Brown Act that ensures access to meetings held by public boards. “We didn’t have a site and we had to post somewhere,” he said.

After obtaining a site in August, the school began posting agendas on the outside of its building. Sandoe also points out that the Brown Act doesn’t require the physical posting of meeting minutes in any location, in most cases.

But CUSD’s notice says state law requires agenda posting “in a location that is freely accessible to members of the public,” and notes that at the time of the October notice the Green School hadn’t posted either agendas or minutes on its “fully-functional website.”

Agendas and meeting notices have recently begun appearing on the Green School’s site, under the “Resources” link.

The Green School refutes all other accusations, including an allegation that Sandoe and board Vice Chairwoman Selena Logan disclosed information from a closed session in violation of the law, which it calls “factually inaccurate.”

CUSD’s notice says it “appears that Board President Sandoe and Vice President Logan are attempting to perform too many administrative tasks, and are unable to delegate these responsibilities to the school’s staff.”

Chico Green School responds: “This is an interesting opinion, but it is not supported by specific facts in the Notice. Furthermore, it is not a violation of law or our charter for a Board member to perform too many tasks.”

CUSD tells Green School it must post agendas and minutes in a “consistent location … including but not limited to the CGS website.” Another step the school has been ordered to take involves producing “video or audio recordings of each open session board meeting.”

Though the school is posting its agendas, it says it won’t “guarantee the posting of our agenda on the CGS website as this is not required by law.” It also says, “There is no legal obligation under the Brown Act or our charter for the CGS Board to do its own audio or visual taping of meetings, and we will not do so.”

In a letter to Staley, Sandoe says: “We believe that CGS has complied with the charter… and with all applicable state and federal laws governing its operations, with the exception of the addition of a junior class.”

Sandoe said he presumed that Chico Green School’s charter could be amended—without going to CUSD—so that the 11th-graders could begin at the school sooner rather than later. He said he now realizes he shouldn’t have made that assumption.

Green School has asked CUSD to approve the necessary charter revision.

Sandoe said the school opened a conversation with CUSD on the matter before the school year began, and the district appeared to be failing to meet a deadline for acting on the school’s request.