Saturday, July 22, 2017
[San Bernardino County] Grand Jury probe targets charter school maintenance, oversight
A San Bernardino County Civil Grand Jury investigation recommends that Desert Trails Preparatory Academy (DTPA) in Adelanto be compensated for money spent on campus repairs of “major maintenance issues.”
The Grand Jury focused on two charters overseen by the San Bernardino County Office of Education: DTPA and Norton Science and Language Academy (NSLA), the San Bernardino-based sister school of Apple Valley’s Academy for Academic Excellence.
Adelanto’s DTPA made history in 2013 when it became the first school successfully transformed from a public to a charter through California’s 2010 “parent trigger” law, which allows parents to change administration because of poor school performance.
In December 2015, the Adelanto Elementary School District board denied DTPA’s charter renewal petition. Last March, the County Board voted 3-2 to become DTPA’s overseeing agency, making it only the second such school in the county.
Excelsior Charter Schools, which has been overseen by the Victor Valley Union High School District, conditionally became the third countywide charter just last month.
Both Excelsior and NSLA are county “benefit schools,” allowing them to be multi-campused. In the case of DTPA, the county’s only role is to take the place of AESD in overseeing the school’s performance, a California Charter Schools Association official told the Daily Press last year.
The Grand Jury report says that an inspection for DTPA was conducted in August last year, when SBCSS first became its oversight agent, the visit resulting in “six high priority items.” Among them was an active classroom without a functioning air conditioner, “trip hazards” around the basketball courts and other areas, a cracked slide, holes in the rubberized play surface and the lack of a handicap ramp to a building.
The Charter Facilities Agreement between AESD and DTPA from June 2013 said that the district “shall be responsible for the major maintenance of the (school site).”
DTPA paid independent companies for repairs “when AESD did not respond in a timely manner” to maintenance requests, the Grand Jury report said.
“When AESD denied DTPA’s petition for renewal for 2016-2017, AESD believed that DTPA would be seeking other facilities to use. DTPA planned to remain at the same school location,” the report said. “To reach a solution regarding use of the school location, legal counsel for each entity agreed to select (an) arbitrator.”
The conclusion was that DTPA has the right to exclusive use of the school site, located at 14350 Bellflower St. in Adelanto, under their original Charter Facilities Agreement with AESD.
A work order submitted by DTPA to AESD last September for a suspected leak on campus saw “little progress” toward repair by February, the report shows.
“At the December AESD Board Meeting, it was reported in the public comment time that water consumption for a six-month period at DTPA showed twice as much consumption as in a previous six-month period,” the report states. “If the major repair or replacement of the valve had occurred in a timely manner by AESD, funds that would have been spent on the scholars and their educational programs would not have been expended on wasting water during a multi-year California drought.”
The Grand Jury recommends that DTPA be compensated for repairs the school paid for, that further major maintenance repairs are made at its campus and that work orders received by AESD be prioritized and repaired accordingly.
AESD Superintendent Amy Nguyen-Hernandez said the district was formally made aware of the Grand Jury’s report on Wednesday.
“We haven’t had adequate time to complete our review of the finding and recommendations, but we will be providing a formal written response to the Grand Jury by the stated deadline of Oct. 1, 2017,” Nguyen-Hernandez said. “The District remains fully committed to maintaining a positive and cooperative relationship with Desert Trails, its students, staff, administration and the community we serve together.”
The district did not respond to whether it concurred with the Grand Jury’s findings or provide explanation for not providing maintenance repairs that DTPA used independent companies to complete. DTPA officials were not immediately available for comment Friday.
Other findings listed in the Grand Jury report included that both DTPA and NSLA neglected to post Brown Act-required information on their school websites, including approved meeting minutes within five days of their approval, and that parent and teacher attendance to school board meetings was limited.
July 7, 2017
By Charity Lindsey