MALIBU — The school board has rejected a bid by a group of Malibu parents and teachers to turn Point Dume Marine Science Academy into a charter school that operates independent of district oversight.

The vote to deny the charter petition was 4-2, with one board member abstaining. It came after a six-hour meeting at Malibu City Hall that adjourned after midnight Thursday.

Board members Ralph Mechur, Barry Snell, Jose Escarce and Kelly Pye voted to deny the petition. Ben Allen and Maria Leon-Vasquez opposed the motion and Oscar de la Torre abstained.

“I think the superintendent and the staff wanted to deny this from the beginning,” said Robyn Ross, one of the lead petitioners. “It was disappointing but I’m not surprised,” she said of the vote.

The Point Dume group was planning to meet on Friday to discuss plans to appeal the board’s decision to the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which also has the authority to approve charters, Ross said.

The board’s vote came after the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s staff released a report on Monday that criticized the petition for lacking a sound financial plan.

In a rebuttal to that assessment, members of the Point Dume group on Thursday morning presented a set of binding conditions they said they would meet if the board would approve the petition.

The conditions included a commitment to have at least $400,000 on hand by May 31 and maintain a minimum balance of at least $200,000 at all times. The Point Dume group also said it would submit a curriculum for all grade levels to SMMUSD and commit to maintaining or improving all educational programs.

Leon-Vasquez was the only board member to indicate she was prepared on Thursday night to approve the charter with the proposed conditions.

Despite the affluence of the Point Dume community, Snell, the school board president, said he voted to reject the charter school bid because of concerns about the proposal’s financial plan.

“It was clear that the financial assumptions for the three year projection for the charter requires an awful lot of local [donations],” he said.

Even though the Point Dume PTA regularly raises about $375,000 per year, he said the charter budget plan would have required an even higher amount. He said he was uncomfortable with the proposal because there was no guarantee the group’s fundraising capacity was sustainable.

Ross, though, dismissed that argument.

“We feel very confident that we’d be able to [raise] whatever funds we need to sustain the program and balance the budget,” she said, adding that the charter conversion group has obtained commitments for $520,000 in donations so far.

Allen, who opposed the motion to deny the petition, said his vote does not mean he favored awarding the charter. He said he had concerns about the petitioners’ financial plan and believed the district’s analysis was thorough. He said his vote reflected concern there hadn’t been enough time for both sides to meet and discuss the proposal.

“I felt as though the petitioners deserved a chance to meet with the staff and try to reconcile the many discrepancies between their petition and the staff’s analysis,” he said.

Ross and others in her group had criticized the district for failing to meet with the petitioners as staff members were conducting their review of the charter proposal to allow proponents to address concerns.

“We have reached out to them on numerous occasions wanting to start a dialogue about the petition and there was no response from the district staff or the board,” she said.

At the meeting on Thursday, Allen proposed a 30-day extension to allow for more discussion, but the Point Dume group declined the offer.

Ross said her group, which hopes to open Point Dume as a charter school for the 2011-2012 school year, is on a tight timeline.

“In order to be able to open next fall, we have to do certain things and we really can’t afford to be delayed any more,” she said.

She said the county’s Office of Education will have a 60-day window in which to make a decision on the petition once it’s submitted. If the county denies the petition, the Point Dume group can appeal to the California Department of Education.

nickt@www.smdp.com

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