County staff recommends denial of Point Dume charter


The county board of education will vote Feb. 8 on the petition.

By Knowles Adkisson / The Malibu Times

The Los Angeles County Board of Education (LACOE) staff has recommended against approving the charter petition for Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School. The board heard a presentation on the petition by its staff at its board meeting on Tuesday. The board will vote on the charter petition at its meeting next week.

Judy Higelin, who works in county’s charter school office, presented the staff’s report, which found that the petition did not offer sufficient student diversity or proof that it would improve student performance at the school, and that the petition’s reliance on private contributions for 20 percent of its budget did not constitute a sound financial plan. The report concluded that “the petitioners are unlikely to successfully implement the proposed educational programs.”

If the board turns down the petition at its Feb. 8 meeting, the petitioners will then have a final opportunity to appeal to the State Board of Education in Sacramento.

Point Dume parent Ali Thonson, one of the lead petitioners, told The Malibu Times on Tuesday, “What I think has been really difficult for us is the challenge to try to communicate … that already the current programs that exist at the school are entirely paid for by the PTA. If we don’t raise the money, we don’t have marine science, we don’t have our lab, we don’t have computers.”

Thonson said she believed that communication between petitioners and LACOE board members had been positive and that the deficiencies cited by LACOE staff could be worked through.

But LACOE staff appears to share the interpretation of Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Tim Cuneo, who showed up again to testify against the charter petition.

“While the petition may provide for some new opportunities for teachers and parents, a sound educational program is designed to serve the children,” Cuneo told the board during public comment. “Educating children can’t be left to chance, a flawed plan and a hope.”

County staff questioned whether the Point Dume charter petition meets the intent of the Charter Schools Act, to provide expanded learning opportunities, particularly for low achieving students, to offer different and innovative teaching methods, and to provide parents and students with expanded educational choices. Charter applications are traditionally made by low-achieving schools, while Point Dume elementary is a high-achieving school.

Point Dume elementary was closed in 1980 and reopened in 1996 with its current marine science focus. Thonson and other Point Dume parents came away alarmed from a November 2009 state of the schools address at which they said Cuneo indicated that although closure of the school was not on the table for the 2010-11 school year, the following year was not out of the question. That moved them to start the charter petition.

Cuneo, in an earlier story in The Times, said he could not recall exactly what he said, but also said, “I probably said I can’t predict the future if things financially get worse than they are,” Cuneo said. “I would think [in that situation] the board and I would be studying consolidation of schools and a variety of other things. But those are huge steps to take, and it takes a long time to think them through and the impact it would have on a child’s education.”

He added that the board never discussed closure of Point Dume Elementary.

In December, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board voted to deny the Point Dume charter petition in a charged meeting at Malibu City Hall. That led petitioners to appeal to the county.