Salinas City Elementary School District board denies charter for Oasis school

Peninsula Premier Admin

SALINAS — By a 3-2 vote, the Salinas City Elementary School District board voted to deny Oasis Charter Public School a renewal of its charter petition Monday night.

The K-6 charter school based in Salinas was founded 20 years ago and had been chartered under the Alisal Union School District. But AB 1507, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October 2019, changed state law to require charter schools submit requests for the renewal of their charter petition in the district they are geographically located, meaning Oasis had to submit its renewal to the Salinas City Elementary district rather than the Alisal Union district.

The district’s staff report included an investigation into Oasis Charter Public School and concluded that closing the school was in the best interest of the students and recommended the board deny the renewal petition.

“Overall, it is apparent from the decline in academic achievement over a three-year period, the trend of underperformance compared with District-run schools, and the achievement gap for significant subgroups, that it is not in students’ best interest to renew this charter,” the staff report stated.

The report stated current English learner students at Oasis scored 106.3 points below standard on mathematics testing and 72.3 points below standard on English language arts. The report showed Hispanic or Latino students, the only ethnicity subgroup present in the Oasis population in sufficient numbers to be reflected in the report, saw their mathematics and English language arts decline significantly while schools in the Salinas City Elementary district improved after Oasis’ peak in 2016-2017 when Hispanic or Latino students had higher numbers than the district’s comparable scores.

“Persistent declining trends in academic performance, both for the student body as a whole and for the (English learners) and Hispanic/Latino student subgroups, are particularly troubling,” the report stated. “Together with the governance issues raised below, it appears that Oasis students would be better served and make more academic progress at District-run schools.”

The governance issues refer to an investigation into Oasis and its operator, Under Construction Educational Network Inc., by the Alisal Union School District in 2018 that includes several governance and legal compliance concerns with Oasis’ operations. The report stated Salinas City Elementary district staff found that several teachers are at the school without a clear teaching credential and found concerns with transparency, including the timely publication of board meeting minutes and comprehensive corporate bylaws, remain.

After the Alisal district demanded Oasis surrender its charter and threatening to revoke it, the district and school officials later agreed to keep the school open and the charter in place.

During public comment Monday, parents and former students were among those speaking out in support of Oasis. Christine Fernandez, a parent of two students who attend the school, broke into tears as she advocated for Oasis.

“The children, parents and staff members are very passionate about Oasis, we are like a family where everyone knows each other,” she said. “I know Oasis is doing their best. My kids are very engaged and they are inspired to learn since they’ve been at Oasis. Oasis is a school who genuinely puts parents and children first. They need to be given a chance.”

Trustee Kathryn Ramirez said she could feel the passion from the parents speaking on behalf of Oasis.

“I’m concerned about the data,” she said. “I’m concerned about the growth that was presented, or the lack of growth.”

Trustee Jessica Powell said that as a teacher, she doesn’t like using test scores as a “true foundation to show exactly how much a child is learning inside the classroom and even outside the classroom.”

“But after looking at both parties and what they have presented, there’s been a few things that have stood out to me that will help me with my decision,” she said.

Powell, Ramirez and Art Galimba voted to adopt the staff findings and reject the charter petition while Francisco Javier Estrada and Amy Ish voted against the motion.

Ish said that after hearing from parents and students from Oasis, she did not like the wording of the staff findings in the report but agreed that the charter petition should be denied.

“I don’t agree it’s in the best interests of the students and I also do not agree that they have not made sufficient progress in a year,” she said.

However, the district’s legal counsel said trustees needed to adopt all of the findings in the staff report for the denial to hold up in court, leading Ish to vote against the motion to deny the charter petition.

After the vote, Estrada said Oasis Charter Public School officials have 30 days to appeal the denial to the Monterey County Office of Education.

Lucy Zepeda, the executive director of Oasis, confirmed by email to The Herald that the school will appeal to the county.

“They will have to review our petition and eventually the MCOE Board will vote on approval or denial of our charter,” she said.

Oasis serves 250 students, 150 families and employs 13 teachers and 19 faculty staff members, who may be displaced by the decision. The petition was to renew the charter from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2026.

“We all demonstrated our commitment and dedication to the Oasis community,” Zepeda wrote in a message on the school’s Facebook page announcing the denial. “Because of that, please know hope is not lost yet! We will continue on our path to appeal and we will be Oasis Strong! From the bottom of our hearts, thank you all for believing in our mission. We still have hope!”

Contributed by local news sources

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