Staff recommend Berkeley school district reject charter proposal

As the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education convenes for the first time this month, the board is planning on doling out an all too familiar verdict.

A proposal for a charter school, called Integrity Education Center, will most likely be denied by the board at its Wednesday night meeting. After holding a public hearing and reviewing the proposal, district staff now recommend rejecting the proposal, an earlier version of which fell to the same fate in June.

In the staff report, the grounds for denial of the revised proposal are listed as such:

  • The Revised Petition does not contain reasonably comprehensive descriptions of the required elements of a charter petition.
  • The Petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the Revised Petition.
  • The charter school presents an unsound educational program for the pupils to be enrolled in the charter school.
  • The Revised Petition does not contain an affirmation of each of the conditions required by statute.

Integrity Education Center, which would emphasize drop-out recovery, is based in Oakland. Over the past several years, the Oakland Unified School District has accumulated dozens of charter schools — it even has a special charter school office — all aiming to find a solution to the district’s low test scores, while neighboring Berkeley Unified School District had none.

Although, according to state law, a school district must approve a charter if it meets certain criteria set forth by the state, the district had found fault with every proposal brought forward, rejecting numerous over the past several years, until last year. In June 2010, the board approved its first charter school, the Revolutionary Education and Learning Movement middle and high school. The REALM school opened its doors in August — a historic moment for the Berkeley Unified School District, which had never housed a charter school before.

The charter school movement began about 20 years ago, as community members across the country, frustrated by their local, public education systems, looked to try their hand at teaching kids. But officials in the Berkeley Unified School District have said multiple times that charters are typically looking to make a profit, not educate students.

So, the REALM schools came as a welcome change for the district, since the man behind their conception — Victor Diaz — was the principal of the district’s continuation school, Berkeley Technology Academy. Since Diaz isn’t an outsider, the district saw his proposals as a “grassroots effort,” as district spokesperson Mark Coplan told The Daily Californian in August.

But now that REALM is up and running, the district’s need for an alternative to Berkeley High School, its only comprehensive secondary school, is filled.

The district will vote to either approve or reject the staff’s recommendation Wednesday night.

Soumya Karlamangla is the assistant city news editor.