The School Guru Who Promised Rescue and
Voice of San Diego
By EMILY ALPERT
Sept. 24, 2008
Juan Pablo Ladron de Guevara had floundered in a big, conventional school,
but not at Cortez Hill Academy. He relished the small classes and loved
chatting with his English teacher, his "all-time most favorite teacher in the whole
"I actually felt like coming to school," de Guevara said.
Mike Hazelton led three different charter schools in four years, each of which
suffered deeper deficits or suspicions of mismanagement under his leadership.
Photo from TIP Academy yearbook
But Cortez Hill enrollment didn't keep pace with soaring downtown rents in the
summer of 2006, making money so scarce at the tiny charter school that it
relied on parents to help maintain the dim, aging building on A Street.
Balancing the books frustrated the principal, a former counselor who could
soothe troubled teens but was less familiar with finances.
Michael R. Hazelton sold himself as an expert who could help. He was soothing.
Gray-haired. Nice. A Harvard University seminar topped his resume, loaded
with impressive work at a national company and a school that had once aided
Cortez Hill. The school hired him as its executive director to reverse its fortunes.
Instead its deficit ballooned from $16,559 to $188,187 in the single year that it
employed Hazelton. When an audit revealed that he gave himself an $18,350
raise without the blessing of the Cortez Hill board, boosting the six-figure salary
that had already dwarfed what his predecessor had earned, Hazelton was
School District Report on TIP Academy (pdf)
TIP Response to School District (pdf)
Cortez Hill Academy Audit (pdf)
Las Banderas Academy Audit (pdf)
Two of its 13 teachers lost their jobs as Cortez Hill struggled to pay its bills. And
something else was missing, something de Guevara couldn't quite describe.
Rumors about Hazelton spread and graffiti proliferated in the bathrooms. De
Guevara started skipping class to hang out with friends in the library.
"Everyone found out what Mike did," de Guevara said, adding that "the school
changed so much. I hated it."
Cortez Hill isn't the only charter school where Mike Hazelton promised rescue
and brought ruin. In four years, he has led three Southern California schools
and each has been crippled or closed by the time he walked away, suffering
deficits or battling accusations that Hazelton improperly enriched himself or
corporations he founded.
He was first accused of double-dipping in San Bernardino County, where
deficits destroyed a bilingual school that paid him nearly $128,000 in salary
and an estimated $290,000 to the corporation he founded for accounting and
administrative support. The school's abrupt closure left teenagers without class
credits and some struggling to graduate.
Two and a half years later, an audit concluded that his Cortez Hill raise was
unapproved and the school hemorrhaged money under his watch, decimating
its budget and its morale. And his most recent school, Theory Into Practice
Academy, was shut down in August after a Encinitas Union School District
investigation concluded that the school's board and administration, which
included Hazelton and his wife Deborah Hazelton, violated conflict of interest
laws and mismanaged its finances.
Deborah Hazelton, wife of Mike Hazelton, cofounded TIP Academy and served
as its principal. Photo from TIP Academy yearbook
Hazelton is still in business, now planning a new private school with his wife in
San Marcos. He has not repaid the thousands of dollars that the Encinitas
school district and Cortez Hill say he was improperly paid. Hazelton has
explanations for the mishaps: The San Bernardino school had trouble
partnering with a community group. Cortez Hill was billed twice by the school
district. And rivalry spurred the Encinitas school district to attack his school.
He has defenders in San Bernardino and Encinitas. Some contend that the
closure of TIP Academy was a politically motivated attack on a successful
charter that had drawn students away from the Encinitas schools; others
voiced similar complaints about the school district that oversaw the San
Bernardino school and place its problems with the local group that partnered
Even his harshest critics call him nice, and struggle to reconcile his kindness
with his record. When classrooms needed books he jumped to supply them. He
knew each of their children by name. It seemed impossible that friendly Mike
Hazelton, the man who ran school traffic duty in a goofy straw hat, meant to
profit off their school. Katherine Flesh, who sent her children to the Encinitas
school, was left wondering whether Hazelton was conniving or merely
"Is he Mr. Magoo who has left a trail of destruction? Or is it a cover he's
perfected?" she asked. Either way, Flesh said, "he found a gravy train."
His saga underscores the vulnerabilities of charter schools, a relatively new
phenomenon in California education. Publicly funded but independently run,
charters are meant to be incubators for creativity and innovation, unfettered by
the rules that weigh traditional schools. They give all students a free alternative
to the public schools.
But independence also has a price. Charters often shoulder the business tasks
that school districts ordinarily handle for schools, such as running a payroll or
financing a building. And those tasks can prove daunting to educators who are
more familiar with classrooms than budgets.
Hazelton offered to handle those jobs, convincing his employers with his
resume and the sterling reputation of the first charter where he worked.
Exaggerated titles and job descriptions went undetected. Few employers
contacted all the schools he left, or the references who said they hardly knew
Hazelton or hadn't spoken to him in years. School leaders who hired Hazelton
"I was hoping he was the professional who could turn it around for us," said Will
Stillwell, board secretary at Cortez Hill Academy. "I wanted to let him lead."
Hazelton studied at the University of California, Irvine and San Diego State, and
started teaching in 1975 in Oceanside public schools, where he ascended to
coordinator of student services, according to his resume. He also owned
private preschools in Encinitas with his wife, a recognized teacher of gifted
Hazelton joined the charter world in 1998, taking a job at Guajome Park
Academy in Vista, and eventually became assistant superintendent of the
school. In 2001 he began starting charter schools for Guajome, spreading a
dropout recovery program from Vista to the East Coast. His boss praised his
success getting new schools approved, and Hazelton was amazed by the
freedom and possibilities that charter schools offered, such as replicating a
successful program nationwide.
"I'm so used to schools being in boundaries, and I didn't realize you could go all
over," Hazelton said in an interview. "It was a paradigm shift for me."
'He Ripped Us Off:' Cortez Hill Academy
Jacqueline Hicks leafed through the mail left behind at Cortez Hill Academy
after Mike Hazelton quit as executive director two weeks before school started
in August 2007 to take a job at his wife's school in Encinitas. Each envelope
held another nasty surprise. The rent hadn't been paid for two months, Hicks
told her board in a letter, and checks were bouncing because Hazelton had
neglected to make a wire transfer on time.
And then the school bookkeeper told Hicks that Hazelton had hiked his
$100,000 salary to $118,350 -- a raise that Hicks and the board said they'd
never approved. Auditors from El Cajon-based Wilkinson Hadley & Co. later
discovered that the school's deficits had jumped from $16,559 to $188,187
during the single year that Hazelton was director, and Hazelton was signing
checks alone despite a school policy that required him to get a second
"He ripped us off," Hicks said. She added, "And I had no idea until he was
Hicks changed the locks on Hazelton's office and alerted the board. She
demanded that he return the funds. He hired an attorney. Hicks told the police
about the raise and the audit, but nothing came of it. Suing him seemed too
expensive to contemplate.
"I did what I could do with it," she said, "and then I moved on."
Hazelton chalked up the deficit to a change in the way San Diego Unified billed
charter schools, but the school district said its change didn't increase costs. He
insisted that his salary was approved by the board as part of a smaller
Cortez Hill "has its challenges because the people there really didn't have a
business sense," Hazelton later said. "... I just inherited a tough timing
Hicks said school leaders banked on the recommendation of Stephen Halfaker,
the former Chief Executive Officer of Guajome Park Academy, when they hired
Hazelton. But had the leaders at Cortez Hill scrutinized his resume more
carefully, Hazelton might not have seemed as impressive. Three of his claims
aren't supported by employers listed on his resume, and his other references
include past acquaintances who were surprised to learn that they were
references at all.
Hazelton claimed to have developed four new charters between 2004 and 2006
for Adams and Associates, Inc., a Nevada-based company that operates
career training programs. Yet its president Roy Adams, one of Hazelton's
references, said Hazelton didn't develop new charters while working for the
company. He only consulted them on curriculum for their alternative high
Hazelton also touted himself as co-founder and board president of the
award-winning School for Integrated Academics and Technologies
headquartered in Vista between 2001 and 2002. But its spokeswoman said
Hazelton wasn't its founder and never served on the board, though he did help
spread a dropout recovery program that eventually evolved into the Vista
And had Hicks, the Cortez Hill principal, known to call Dennis Byas, who
oversaw the Colton Joint School School District outside San Bernardino, she
would have gotten a counterpoint to that resume: The financial meltdown of
Las Banderas Academy, which Hazelton and his corporation oversaw one year
before he joined Cortez Hill.
"Maybe we should have looked farther," Hicks said. "But I didn't know how to
'It Just Didn't Seem Right:' Las Banderas Academy
Las Banderas Academy had long worried Superintendent Byas. Its test scores
were mediocre and its board members kept changing. Byas wasn't convinced
that it enrolled as many students as it claimed. And the school was run by an
alphabet soup of organizations that still confounded Byas years after the
school was shuttered.
Chief among those organizations was New Education for Communities, Inc., a
corporation that Hazelton founded. It was entitled to 15 percent of Las
Banderas' revenues for accounting and administrative support while Hazelton
also served as the school's full-time chief education officer. Suspicions
abounded that Hazelton was double-dipping by earning a Las Banderas salary
and gaining money from the group as well.
Theory Into Practice Academy shared a building with this Encinitas school.
Photo: Sam Hodgson
Those suspicions were never proven or disproven because the corporation left
few records and was later suspended by the state. Deficits forced the school to
close. But the corporate confusion and allegations foreshadowed the conflicts
that later unraveled Theory Into Practice Academy in Encinitas.
Las Banderas began as the brainchild of Emma Lechuga, who had long been
intrigued by the idea of a charter school to serve bilingual students. Her Colton
nonprofit Somos Hermanas Unidas had taught English to immigrants and
helped teen dropouts earn their degrees for decades, but opening a school
took money that Lechuga didn't have, and Byas was skeptical of her first ideas.
She had shelved her plans until she met Mike Hazelton, who was working for
the highly regarded Guajome Park Academy and spreading a computerized
dropout recovery program much like hers. Together they imagined a new
school: A bilingual version of the elite International Baccalaureate program that
was flourishing at Guajome, but tailored for disadvantaged youth in Colton.
Billing Guajome as the "parent corporation" for Las Banderas helped convince
the Colton school board to approve the school. It was a respected school that
legitimized their plans and furnished Las Banderas with seed money. Without
Guajome and Hazelton, "the school would not have been a viable charter," said
former Colton school board member Tobin Brinker.
"Emma is a real nice person," Brinker said, "but Mike and the people from
Guajome Park had the experience."
But the involvement of Hazelton's corporation started to trouble Lechuga and
her staff as money flowed to the outside group. Hazelton called New Education
for Communities a nonprofit subsidiary of Guajome Park Academy, but its exact
relationship with the school is cloudy. Tax returns filed by Guajome while Las
Banderas was operating do not list either the corporation or Las Banderas as
"We spent hours trying to see how New Education fit with everything else," said
English teacher and Las Banderas board member JoAnne Hux. "Was he
double-dipping? It just didn't seem right."
What was clear was that school funds were going to the corporation that
Hazelton headed. New Education for Communities was entitled to 15 percent of
Las Banderas revenues in its first year, according to school documents. Based
on the school's reported revenues of $1.97 million in 2004, the corporation's
15 percent share would've amounted to $290,000 that year.
Teachers felt it was a sizable fee for a school with fewer than 300 students that
already employed an administrator like Hazelton. Founding documents for Las
Banderas said Hazelton's role was "analogous to the role of Principal."
Lechuga and office manager Laurie Gonzalez said Hazelton spent more than
half of his time elsewhere, fostering another charter school near Los Angeles
and unsuccessfully pushing a third in Murrieta. Lechuga was paid $73,844 to
juggle two school sites; Hazelton drew a $127,957 salary from Las Banderas
that rivaled the highest-paid managers in the nearly 25,000-student Colton
Colton school board member Marge Mendoza-Ware was among several school
district and Las Banderas officials who suspected that Hazelton was
double-dipping by earning a Las Banderas salary and profiting from his
corporation as well.
David Jenkins, a former New Education for Communities board member, said
he believed Hazelton was being paid by the organization.
Hazelton denied receiving money from the corporation, but the documents that
would prove that were never filed with the state or Internal Revenue Service.
The corporation never registered with the attorney general as nonprofits are
required to do. Nor did it file its state or federal tax returns, which disclose top
officials' salaries. Hazelton's corporation owes more than $4,000 to the state
and it was suspended in 2007 for failing to file its returns.
The rancor puzzled Hazelton's allies. Rita Hemsley, an education researcher
who served on the Las Banderas board, praised Hazelton as an honest and
professional innovator. Brinker, the Colton school board member, faulted poor
communication between Somos Hermanas Unidas and the corporation for the
clashes. And Brinker attributed its financial crisis to school employees
miscalculating its attendance, not the involvement of Hazelton and his
The closure of Theory Into Practice Academy left children such as Sorel and
Rowan Straughan bereft. Their mother was furious at the Hazeltons. Photo:
In December 2004 an audit revealed that the school ended its first year nearly
$60,000 in the red. It had no emergency reserves and no finalized plan to
solve the problem. And Las Banderas owed nearly $200,000 to Guajome Park
Academy from two separate loans. The audit didn't blame any individual for the
shortfall, but it noted that Las Banderas was getting more state funding than it
should for the number of minutes it was open annually, and had to lengthen
the school year or day to compensate.
Galvanized by the audit, Byas said he demanded financial records from
Hazelton. Byas said Hazelton blamed computer failures for delaying the papers.
Hazelton later chalked up Las Banderas' shortfall to a federal grant that had
been delayed a month -- a factor never mentioned in the audit -- and claimed
not to remember its findings, including auditors' worry that its deficit "raises
substantial doubt about [Las Banderas'] ability to continue as a going concern."
Things began to fall apart for the fledgling school. Hux said she and other
teachers voted against keeping Hazelton in charge. Lechuga quit and Somos
Hermanas Unidas splintered from Hazelton and his corporation. She said it
meant the end of the nonprofit when Las Banderas stopped renting its building,
cutting off money that had sustained them while other funds for job training had
It was like when "you marry someone and you think they're Mr. Wonderful,"
Lechuga said. "Then you realize that this person is an abusive person."
As a junior at the school, Jonathan Alva said he saw the change "out of
nowhere." Enrollment was plummeting and rumors spread that the school
would close. Alva said the new principal tried to sugarcoat it, telling teens it
would all be okay. But before class, Alva's science teacher announced he was
enduring a pay cut for his students' sake.
"That told me, 'It's really over,'" Alva said.
Hazelton was gone by April when the Las Banderas board decided
unanimously to dissolve the school, which could only pay its teachers through
the month. He was replaced by Guajome founder Sandra Angle, and New
Education for Communities promised to foot its remaining payroll and bills.
Board members formally agreed they should "close the school with dignity,
respect and order" when the school year ended.
Yet later in the spring Alva and his classmates arrived at Las Banderas on an
ordinary school day to find the doors unexpectedly locked. Many teens went to
see Byas, peppering him with questions about their records and class credits,
but Alva just went home.
"They closed and threw everything on our lap," Colton school board member
Mark Hoover said. "And the students were the ones who suffered."
Alva couldn't get credit for several classes taught by Las Banderas teachers
without the right credentials, and had to juggle extra classes after school to
graduate. He was still finishing his schoolwork in the summer, too dejected to
watch his classmates striding to "Pomp and Circumstance." It was nothing like
what the ambitious kid from a "not exactly rich" family had expected from Las
Banderas: to graduate with college credit, jumpstarting the college education
his parents never had.
"It all seemed too good to be true," Alva said. "And it was, after all."
'Giving the Bully the Lunch Money:' Theory Into Practice Academy
Robyn Schiefer adored the school that Mike and Deborah Hazelton founded in
2006 where six of her children were challenged, inspired and called "scholars."
She and her husband were astounded when the 8-year-old who once faked
stomachaches to avoid class climbed into the family van early for school. They
were stunned when his older brother overcame a hearing disability to blossom
into an unlikely class clown.
Two years later she stayed awake at night poring over a thick Encinitas school
district report that damned the Hazeltons' actions, lamenting that their
cherished school had been led astray.
Principal Deborah Hazelton, an Oceanside elementary teacher, created Theory
Into Practice Academy, a charter school that taught all children with the same
rigor and complexity as gifted children. Her husband volunteered as president
of its board, but as he finished his first and only year at Cortez Hill Academy,
his wife grew insistent on hiring him. Her June letter to the board argued that
she needed "full-time administrative support."
Board members were reluctant to hire Mike Hazelton. They worried about
nepotism, doubted whether Hazelton was competent, and questioned whether
they could afford another leader. The school district had already scolded them
for incurring debts and overstating their income; they wanted to pinch pennies
to buy their own building instead of sharing space with Ocean Knoll
Elementary. It was "the absolute wrong time to entertain paying Mike Hazelton
$125K per year," board member Louisa Johnson wrote.
"I am gravely concerned that ... the tail is wagging the dog," she wrote in an
e-mail to her colleagues. Board members said Deborah Hazelton's hints had
evolved into threats that she and the teachers would abandon their school if
Mike Hazelton wasn't hired. Her e-mail added, "Giving the bully the lunch
money -- This is not a lesson I want my children to learn!!"
But the Hazeltons had a trump card. Mike Hazelton informed the board that
they had accidentally been using the wrong bylaws, and the right bylaws gave
daunting powers to an outside corporation, Theory Into Practice Education,
Inc., that the Hazeltons created and ran.
Board members were stunned. The corporation had the final say on hiring or
firing a principal or merging with other organizations; it had the power to
choose the board president. Johnson called it "a 'neutron bomb' that can at
any time obliterate the board" if it didn't capitulate to the Hazeltons.
Fighting the bylaws seemed useless after board members learned that the
rules had already been filed with the Encinitas Union School District. But one
year later a private investigator hired on behalf of the school district added up
the details and concluded that the board probably never approved the bylaws
that named the Hazeltons' corporation, and that Mike Hazelton had given false
bylaws to the school district, the Internal Revenue Service, and the state.
Almost the entire board resigned over the next few months, starting with
Zalman Vitenson. "I simply no longer wish to deal with this," he wrote to other
board members, "and they have the upper hand right now."
Shortly after the bylaws materialized, Hazelton was hired as chief operating
officer for $95,000 for the rest of the academic year. Two months later the
school reported a $28,000 first-year deficit, instead of the $6,000 to $12,000
surplus Mike Hazelton had predicted. Its outstanding loans still worried the
Encinitas superintendent. Yet the school also bolstered Deborah Hazelton's
pay from $87,000 to $110,000.
There is no evidence that the TIP board approved either of the Hazeltons'
contracts, according to the Encinitas Union School District. Meeting minutes do
not reflect the hires, but board members said they remember discussing the
raise and the contract.
And in January the Hazeltons asked the board to start paying their corporation
1.5 percent of its annual revenues and a onetime $35,000 fee for curriculum
and administrative support. It echoed the controversial agreement that Las
Banderas had made with New Education for Communities.
Again Mike Hazelton said his corporation's directors -- which included the
Hazeltons -- would earn nothing because it was a nonprofit. But the corporation
failed to get tax exemptions from the IRS or the Franchise Tax Board that would
have required it to file public tax returns listing its highest-paid employees and
The corporation was overseen by a group that included the Hazeltons and
teacher Lisa Bishop, who were already earning salaries from the school, and
University of Southern California educator Sandra Kaplan, who sat on both
boards. They said any conflicts posed by paying the corporation they
controlled could be eliminated by signing a "conflict of interest waiver."
The idea flummoxed board member Mark Demos. He calculated that the school
would pay the corporation $300,000 in a decade, and questioned how that
benefited the school.
As Demos and others voiced their concerns, many families defended the
Hazeltons as a devoted principal and "superhuman" administrator. A civil war
erupted in the stucco school. It grew so ugly, parent Katherine Flesh said, that
another mother shouted "bitch" down a Target aisle at her as she shopped.
She pulled her children from the school just six weeks before summer vacation,
fearing for their safety.
The Hazeltons ultimately dropped plans to contract with their corporation; Mike
Hazelton told The San Diego Union-Tribune that an auditor advised them
against it. Their plans in Palos Verdes and Los Angeles crumbled. But the
Encinitas school district began investigating the school. The district demanded
that the school immediately fire the Hazeltons, remake its board, collect any
improper payments and gather a slew of records.
After TIP Academy was closed, the Hazeltons originally planned to open a new
private school in this San Marcos building. Photo: Sam Hodgson
Hazelton had earlier dismissed "this sort of public flogging" as an attempt to
discredit their school and said the corporation had never gotten school money.
But the school district turned up a $2,156 check that belied his claim.
Encinitas Union School District concluded that the Theory Into Practice
Academy board and the Hazeltons mismanaged public funds and violated the
state conflict of interest law by improperly approving contracts that could profit
board members, including contracts for Mike Hazelton, Deborah Hazelton and
teacher Lisa Bishop. The school district's investigation said Deborah Hazelton
used her influence to goad the board to hire Mike Hazelton for a "lucrative
"[T]here is no evidence to suggest that anyone else was considered or
interviewed for the position, or that any effort was made to establish a
reasonable salary for the position based on market factors or other criteria, or
to otherwise validate the transaction under any validating method available
under the law," the school district concluded.
Encinitas Union School District alleged that those acts violated the Political
Reform Act and a government code that bans public officials and employees
from participating in contracts that could benefit them financially. Charters have
long argued that the second rule, which predates charter schools, does not
apply to them. The question has never been settled in court.
The school complied with most -- but not all -- of the district's demands. It fired
Mike Hazelton and the Hazeltons' corporation gave up its powers over the
school, but Deborah Hazelton stayed until July, and the school said recouping
money was beyond its power. It was shut down despite pleas from parents such
as Jake Bartow, who said closing the successful school was a second wrong
that couldn't make things right.
"If it wasn't for the Hazeltons, there wouldn't be a TIP," parent Richard Boger
said. "And if it wasn't for the mistakes they made, we would still have a TIP."
As Robyn Schiefer pored nightly over the school district's report, her
confidence in the Hazeltons dissolved. She was furious that their board hadn't
stopped the Hazeltons earlier; furious that the school district wouldn't give them
another chance; furious that the school had paid for the Hazeltons' mistakes.
"If they did all this wrongdoing, they should be behind bars," she said.
As the scandal subsided in Encinitas, the Hazeltons began planning another
school. On a sunny August morning they festooned a San Marcos building with
aqua and blue balloons and welcomed visitors to their future private school,
The Academy North County, where every kid would "think like a scholar."
Tuition topped out at $7,500, a fee Mike Hazelton said he was sorry to charge.
"This goes against what we want to do," Hazelton said in August. "We want to
change public education."
They had hoped to open in September, but within a month their plans changed
again. Talk of opening a school disappeared from their website, which instead
advertised tutoring at The Academy Learning Center in Solana Beach for $75
Thursday: The freedom that allows some charter schools to thrive has
spawned an unintended risk: vulnerability to fiscal mismanagement. Charter
schools usually shoulder the business tasks that school districts handle for
traditional schools, and some educators and boards are overwhelmed by the
May 2, 2011
Florida Charters Less Diverse Than Other Public
By Dave Weber, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla. (MCT)
Segregation is making a comeback in Florida's public schools with the new
wave of charter schools springing up across the state.
One out of eight charter schools has a student body with 90 percent or more
of a single race or ethnicity, an Orlando Sentinel analysis of the state's 456
taxpayer-financed charters shows. That compares with one out of 12
traditional public schools.
Those top heavy charters are adding to the list of out-of-balance public
schools that have perplexed educators since integration 40 years ago.
Educators have worked for decades to reduce the imbalance through
rezoning, school-transfer options, magnet schools and other devices to shift
students and make schools more diverse.
But the charter trend is toward segregation, and more of the charters with
skewed enrollments may be on the way.
Charter supporters say they have the best intentions and are following state
law. Besides, they argue, students are not being forced to attend schools
favoring one race or ethnicity. Parents make that choice, they say.
But critics say segregation is not a model Florida should follow in creating
new public schools.
Today, many of the new Florida charters are targeting black or Hispanic
students. There are charters for Jewish, Greek, Puerto Rican and Native
American students, too.
Enrollment at some can run to 99 percent black or Hispanic, with not a single
white student at 19 charters and more than a quarter of all Florida charters
with 10 percent or fewer white students, according to the state's official count
Equally troubling, civil-rights advocates say, is the rise in charters with largely
white student populations, evoking memories of "white flight" from public to
private schools across the South during integration.
|San Diego Education Report
Dec. 5, 2012
Trustees in Carlsbad Unified
School District unanimously
rejected Oxford Preparatory
Academy's proposal to start a
charter school in the district
About 100 people packed the
CUSD board room, and several
parents pleaded with the school
board to give them more choice in
the district by accepting the
charter school, which already has
campuses in Chino and
Capistrano. Oceanside Unified
School District rejected a petition
from the charter school early this
Trustees rejected the proposed
after hearing a staff report that
gave the charter's petition low
scores on several points.
[School] District attorney Dan
Shinoff said there were major
deficiencies in the proposal from
the Chino-based charter school.
Of 16 state-required elements for
a charter school petition, Shinoff
said Oxford had eight that were
Those deficiencies included
inadequately budgeted start-up
costs, a lack of teachers
interested in the school and
overstated enrollment predictions,
according to the report.
Eric Beam, director of special
services for Oxford, reminded
trustees that a district could reject
a charter school petition only if
they can prove that the school
would be unsound academically,
would be unlikely to succeed,
would discriminate against certain
students, or if the proposal isn’t
comprehensive enough or doesn’t
include enough signatures.
Beam said the school's financial
plan was sound, as proved by two
audits that showed its budget with
a 5 and 6 percent reserve.
He also said the California
Department of Education had
reviewed its application and
deemed its program description a
perfect 50 out of 50.
"Based on these criteria, there's
only plausible result," he said.
But trustees said they had
concerns after hearing that
projections for enrollment and for
teacher interest in the school had
While Beam said he could have
produced in-person the teachers
who signed a petition that said
they were interested in working at
the school, district staff members
said their investigation cast
doubts on the petition's numbers.
According to the staff report, out
of 33 teachers who signed the
petition, only one lived in
Carlsbad. Others said they would
consider commuting or moving to
But 11 of the teachers who were
contacted by the district said they
thought they were signing
petitions to work in Oxford schools
in Chino or Capistrano. Six could
not be reached, and two had
wrong telephone numbers,
according to the report.
Staff members also said they
could confirm only 53 parents who
said they would enroll in the
school, while Oxford claimed 681
local parents had signed the
Some parents at the board
meeting said people circulating
the petition had misrepresented it
by saying it did not mean an intent
to enroll, but rather just an
interest in the school. One man
said a person circulating the
petition at a Halloween carnival
told parents it was to support
school choice in Oceanside.
Those comments were
troublesome to Trustee Ann
"I'm concerned that OPA
misrepresented something very
important," she said. "In my line of
work, all I see is behavior. And
when I see behavior like that, that
has an impact on me."
Tanner and other board members
also said they were concerned
that the governing board of the
school would be in Chino, 80 miles
away from parents.
Oxford Preparatory Academy
would have been the first charter
school in the district. It has the
right to appeal the rejection to the
county Office of Education.