Thursday, April 20, 2006
With the future of Monterey Bay Charter School hanging in the balance, its director David Hill turned to Monterey Peninsula Unified School District (MPUSD) for help.
Late last year, Hill asked MPUSD, the county’s largest school district, to sponsor the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade charter school based in Pacific Grove. Under a new state law, Monterey Bay Charter can no longer partner with its sponsoring district in Santa Cruz County. So the school, which enrolls about 200 students, needed to find a new local district or shut it doors for good. Charter schools are free to students, and are funded by state dollars that would otherwise go to local school districts.
In January, MPUSD turned down the school’s appeal for a charter contract.
That was strike one. Carmel Unified School District was strike two. Then Hill appealed to Pacific Grove Unified School District. Strike three.
Lucky for Hill, Monterey Bay Charter School had one final strike to spare.
On April 5, at a drama-filled meeting, the Monterey County Office of Education (MCOE) Board voted to approve Monterey Bay Charter’s application.
Now, Cypress Grove Charter School is hoping to follow in Monterey Bay Charter’s footsteps. But accusations of money woes may hamper its success.
On May 17, the MCOE Board is expected to vote on Cypress Grove’s contract application.
Cypress Grove is located off Gen. Jim Moore Boulevard on the former Fort Ord. Based on state test scores, it’s the third-best high school in Monterey County. The MCOE Board appears to be Cypress Grove’s last hope to keep its doors open to its 175 students.
In February, Cypress Grove’s former sponsoring district, MPUSD, did not renew a charter contract with the school. The MPUSD Board’s decision was based on a report filed by the district’s chief business officer, Tom Woodruff, which stated that Cypress Grove was operating in the red and hadn’t completed financial audits for the last two school years.
Walt Ferguson, director of Cypress Grove, disputes the district’s assertions and defends the school’s finances. “The claims made by MPUSD are just that, claims, which are unsubstantiated,” Ferguson says.
Cypress Grove has completed financial audits, Ferguson charges, and the real problem is that the district won’t sign off on the school’s numbers.
For two years, Cypress Grove and MPUSD have not been able to agree on the state of the school’s finances, and that has prevented both sides from completing an audit.
Currently, an auditor is working with MPUSD and Cypress Grove to resolve the dispute. Ferguson refused to release the disputed financial statements to the Weekly because the draft audits have not been finalized.
One fact that may play in favor of Cypress Grove, however, is that MCOE already has an ongoing relationship with the school. MCOE houses its Autism Spectrum Disorder special education classes on the school’s campus, and Cypress Grove students often interact with autistic students through volunteer programs.
“We’ve had a number of visits from MCOE staff,” Ferguson says. “They’re reviewing our finances, our academic programs, and the feedback so far is very positive. We’re encouraged.”