Charters make their play

The Sacramento County Office of Education isn’t in the news all that much. But there have been a run of stories in The Sacramento Bee lately setting the stage for SCOE board elections in June.

Basically, Team Scoopy has framed the election as a contest between the well-meaning charter-school operators—Margaret Fortune in particular—and bloated union stooges who criticize charter schools.

That’s trouble for Harold Fong, the only SCOE board member who opposed the Fortune Schools application last year. Margaret Fortune has reported giving $1,100 to Fong’s challenger, Christina Shipman. The Bee also just endorsed a slate of charter supporters, including Shipman.

“They basically want to take out the person who opposed the Fortune charter. They want to send a message,” Fong told Bites.

He opposed it partly because the Fortune charter application was explicitly about closing the “achievement gap” for black students. A worthy goal, to be sure. But given that other Fortune schools are somewhere around 80 percent African-American, “I had serious reservations that they were asking for a segregated charter school. I thought we should discourage that,” said Fong.

Segregation is a scary word; you don’t just throw it around in a column or news story. Perhaps that’s why Fong’s segregation argument never got much play.

But he was also troubled by the precedent set by SCOE’s approval of the Fortune schools.

That’s because Fortune basically did an end run around local school districts—like Sacramento City Unified School District, or the Natomas schools, places that are actually struggling to pay the costs of charters—instead shopping the application to the more friendly SCOE board.

There’s a good chance the SCOE board is about to get even friendlier. “It’s kind of a test case,” said Fong. “If they can take over the Sacramento County school board, in the capital of California, they can over Yolo, Shasta, you name it.”

While we’re on the subject of SCOE and troubling precedents: County Superintendent of Education Dave Gordon last week scotched a budget agreement between the SCUSD and the Sacramento City Teachers Association.

The agreement is aimed at trying to close the school district’s $28 million budget gap.

According to SCTA president Scott Smith, the union had also agreed to come back to the bargaining table if Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax ballot measure fails in the fall. That would worsen the SCUSD deficit by about $15 million.

Good enough for district Superintendent Jonathan Raymond, who agreed to the conceptual deal. But not good enough for Gordon, who is bigfooting Raymond and taking the unusual step of inserting his own language.

“Basically, they want to be able to reopen the contract for any reason at all,” said Smith. “If there’s any change in funding whatsoever, they can reopen the contract. It’s ridiculous.”

Smith and Fong both told Bites that Gordon’s maneuver is unprecedented. And it’s not entirely clear that it’s legal. “SCOE has gone way beyond their authority,” said Smith. Getting to be a habit.