SMMUSD HDQTRS — Three kindergarten teaching positions are off the chopping block after petitioners to make Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School a charter school announced they would not appeal their case to the state, yet.

Superintendent Tim Cuneo told the Board of Education at its meeting Thursday that although he’d requested the flexibility to lay off six kindergarten teachers, he could reduce that number to three in the wake of the petitioners’ decision.

“Our interest was if [the Point Dume parents] appealed and were approved by the state and the school was able to start up in September of this year, they would have an attempt to hire some of the teachers,” Cuneo said. “We didn’t know how many.”

That might not sound like a problem that would lead to layoffs, but the district would have been required to offer positions to those teachers that didn’t move over to the new charter school.

Many of the Point Dume teachers have been with the district longer than teachers in other schools, which would mean that those newer teachers would have been displaced by the inclusion of the ex-Point Dume faculty.

That possibility, as well as declining kindergarten enrollment, forced Cuneo to request that the board direct staff to identify six K-5 teachers for termination.

Although the petitioners have chosen not to appeal their decision to the state at this juncture, it doesn’t preclude them from doing so in the future.

Robyn Ross, one of the parents leading the petition, wrote in an e-mail that the group has 180 days from when the county denied its charter application to file an appeal with the state.

Given the fact that seven of the nine members of the State Board of Education are brand new appointees, and that the district will have a new superintendent in the 2011-12 school year, the group felt it was prudent to wait.

“We would feel comfortable moving forward if we felt our petition and our group were going to be dealt with fairly and objectively,” Ross wrote.

The new board may have a different philosophy in approving charter petitions, Cuneo acknowledged.

“They are more rigorous in looking at charters,” he said.

The timing of the appeal also created a disconnect.

The earliest it would be accepted would be May, or possibly as late as July, Ross wrote, which would put a strain on teachers and make it difficult for families to plan to get their children enrolled in middle school.

Parent surveys revealed that many wanted their children to remain on the elementary school campus one more year to prepare them for Malibu High School. The push to include a sixth grade at Point Dume became a focal point for the charter school petition.

“We are disappointed that we weren’t able to offer the sixth grade option for interested families next year, as, once again, it appears that a high percentage of our graduating class will be leaving the district for private schools,” she wrote.

Even if the school year lined up, the state’s fiscal climate might not.

A primary reason that the school district and county denied the charter school petition was that it couldn’t sustain itself financially.

Charter schools receive state funding similar to public schools. The proposed budget will already result in a slight reduction in funding to schools. Should the fiscal situation decline, it will be even more difficult to keep a small school open.

Cuneo referred to it as “economies of scale.”

“The picture has changed,” he said. “They have to look at the finances as well as anyone else.”

Petitioners have 180 days from the Feb. 8 rejection by the county to file an appeal.

ashley@smdp.com

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