Los Banos school board split over charter school amid possible legal fight

Los Banos Unified School District trustees Megan Goin-Soares (left) and Marlene Smith react to the district's legal counsel's advice during a board meeting Thursday, March 9, 2017, at the Los Banos City Hall.
Los Banos Unified School District trustees Megan Goin-Soares (left) and Marlene Smith react to the district's legal counsel's advice during a board meeting Thursday, March 9, 2017, at the Los Banos City Hall.

Green Valley Charter School’s fight for survival has spilled over to the Los Banos Unified School District Board, which is split over whether the school should get a second hearing on its charter renewal.

Charter school officials have filed for a writ of mandate with the Merced Superior Court to either enforce an automatic five-year renewal with the district, or force the district to hear and vote on its charter renewal at the next June 8 board meeting, Green Valley Principal Andrew Meza said.

The legal action has heated a divided board opinion on whether the school should be given a second chance with the district.

A majority of the board, Ray Martinez, Gary Munoz, Marlene Smith and Megan Goin-Soares, said they were in favor of hearing a new petition from Green Valley. Board Vice President Dennis Areias and Clerk Marg Benton said they were against it.

Board President Anthony Parreira wouldn’t comment on the legal action taken by Green Valley. However, he has maintained that the school district can’t re-hear the charter renewal due to strict guidelines in the state education code that guides charter schools to the county and state departments of education if it’s denied at the local level.

“I’m frustrated because everybody has been told this a number of times,” Parreira said. “Our action was final. We cannot make any changes. We cannot take action to discuss it again. It is out of our jurisdiction.”

Areias echoed Parreira’s frustration Friday.

“Unfortunately, we have a couple board members who are still making life miserable for the rest of us,” he said.

While a majority of the board is in favor of holding the second hearing, the board’s bylaws state that the board president and superintendent “shall work together to develop the agenda for each regular and special meeting.”

So far, neither Parreira nor Acting Superintendent Dean Bubar have placed Green Valley back on the board’s agenda, citing advice from legal counsel.

The school district turned down an initial charter renewal in February due to low comparative and overall test scores, a negative review by the California Charter School Association and questions about the Green Valley administration’s educational plan moving forward.

After the denial, Green Valley appealed the decision with the Merced County Board of Education. However, the county board denied it in March.

Meza said the charter school is pursuing an appeal with the California Department of Education. But in the meantime, bolstered by a charter school attorney, the school has been trying to persuade the district to hear a new petition for renewal that Green Valley officials say addresses several of the issues raised in the first denial.

After several failed attempts at board meetings, Meza sent a letter to district officials last week demanding a new hearing and threatening legal action otherwise. District officials didn’t set a new hearing by Meza’s May 12 deadline.

Green Valley officials also contend that their charter was automatically renewed after 60 days of sending a second petition to the district because the district failed to hold a hearing. But district officials have refuted those claims, noting that the district followed the education code by hearing and denying the first renewal petition.

“I think a charter school has great value and I wish them well,” Benton said. “But as I see it, they have moved on to the other levels. I’m not understanding why they want to bring it back to us when they have been following the process.”

Green Valley had plenty of time to make its case for renewal, Areias said, adding that he would have been open to extending the charter for six to 12 months to give the school more time. But that wasn’t an option.

“We voted as a board, a 4-3 vote,” Areias said. “End of conversation. If somebody wants to start a new charter, I’m all ears.”

During the February board meeting, Areias, Benton, Parreira and Munoz voted against the charter renewal.

Munoz said he would like to give Green Valley another chance.

“They deserve to be heard,” said Munoz, who declined to comment on whether he would vote in favor of the renewal.

Smith also said she wanted a second hearing to help clear up a “conflict of information” between the district’s and school’s legal counsels. Goin-Soares echoed Smith’s statement.

Goin-Soares, Martinez and Smith initially voted in favor of the charter renewal.

“I really feel they are meeting the needs in our district,” Martinez said, noting that he’s been told the school was a positive choice for some students who don’t fit in to the public education system.

“It’s not just all about test scores,” Martinez said. “You’ve got to look at the big picture.”

Goin-Soares, whose own children go to Green Valley, said she knew she was “walking a fine line” when she chose to vote in favor of renewal because of her firsthand experience.

“I think it would have been easier to re-hear a revised petition,” she said.

Vikaas Shanker: 209-826-3831, ext. 6562