Point Dume charter petition under deadline

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The petition projects a $2.6 million budget for a school of approximately 350 students by 2013-14, and calls for an optional sixth-grade program for students who are not prepared for middle school.

By Jonathan Friedman / The Malibu Times

The Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School (PDMSS) charter petition will be officially presented to the Board of Education at its meeting on Thursday at Malibu City Hall. This is a formality to trigger a 60-day period for the board to make a decision on the petition. PDMSS parents submitted the document to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District on Sept. 20.

Charter status would put a Board of Directors in charge of most features at the school, including academics and finances. Parents are seeking the charter status because they fear the school’s dwindling population means the SMMUSD will close the school, something that has happened previously. Also, they want local control during the difficult economic period.

“PDMSS has performed well under the guise of the district and became a California Distinguished School in June of this year,” the petition states. “Unfortunately, due to the state budget crisis, the district has been forced to make cuts in vital programs.”

When the vote takes place to grant charter status has concerned some of those involved in the petition, as they believe the vote must be taken earlier based on technical requirements. A public hearing will take place on the petition Nov. 4, and the board is scheduled to vote on whether to grant charter status on Dec. 6.

Also, the changeover of members on the SMMUSD Board of Education that will take place on Election Day, Nov. 2, might affect the charter vote. By Dec. 6 there could be as many as four new people on the board depending on the results of the election. A spokesperson from Superintendent Tim Cuneo’s office said it is not certain whether new members (there will be at least one since once incumbent is not running for reelection) will be installed in time for the Dec. 6 meeting.

Although the petition includes lengthy details on curriculum, financial and general school operation, the board does not necessarily have to vote absolute thumbs up or thumbs down. Through negotiation, it could approve the petition with changes. Rejection of the petition can be appealed to the Los Angeles County Office of Education and later the state Board of Education.

If approved, the new school would be known as Point Dume Marine Science Charter (PDMSC). A Board of Directors composed of parents and at-large community members would run it. Whichever entity (local, county or state) approves the charter would be in charge of school oversight.

PDMSC would be funded mostly through the state government based on daily attendance. Additional money would come from federal programs and local community support. The petition projects $2.4 million in revenue for the first school year, with the amount going up by $100,000 each year. Expenditures are projected to be less than revenue in each of those years. The school would be audited twice per year.

The petitioners want the charter school to open next fall. The initial seven-member Board of Directors would include four parents and three at-large community members, including charter campaign heads Robyn Ross and Ali Thonson, as well as retired PDMSS teacher Anne Payne, who has also participated in the process. They would serve terms that conclude in 2012 (four members) and 2013 (three members). School parents would elect the permanent board for two-year terms in those years.

The board, which would meet once a month, would function similarly to the SMMUSD’s Board of Education and vote on all major decisions for the school. The principal would serve a role similar to the superintendent. There would be advisory committees, including one for financial oversight and one composed of teachers. Instructors would be working for the school and not for the SMMUSD, and therefore not be union members. No SMMUSD teacher is required to stay at the charter school.

The curriculum established by the charter is focused on the marine science theme that currently exists at PDMSS. There is a thorough academic plan in the petition for K-6 education. The sixth-grade program is something that does not currently exist at PDMSS or any other elementary school in the district. The petition states the sixth-grade program will “provide an alternate education opportunity for those students who are not ready for a middle school experience that may potentially counteract the increasing trend of departure to private schools after elementary school.”

The petition further states, “The sixth-grade courses of study will be aligned with current SMMUSD curriculum and prepare students for continuation at Malibu High School.”

The petition projects a 352-student population by the 2012-13 school year. This year there are approximately 270 students at the school. There will be an application period open to anybody of elementary school age each year for enrollment for the following year. If there are more applications than available spots for a grade level, a drawing will take place to determine who gets to go. Existing students are guaranteed enrollment. The preferences that follow in descending order are siblings of existing students, those who reside within what is currently the PDMSS area, children of full-time school employees, siblings of the school’s alumni and district residents.

The public portion of the Board of Education meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. However, one should take into consideration that the board meetings rarely, if ever, begin on time because of the lengthy closed session period that takes place prior to the public session. They have begun as late as 7 p.m.