WATSONVILLE — A charter school that plans to begin operating in Watsonville in August held its inaugural lottery on Saturday, granting spots to 175 kindergarteners, as well as first- and second-grade students.
Watsonville Prep School will open Aug. 13 in seven portables on the campus of E.A. Hall Middle School.
A total of 210 students applied for the lottery to join WPS.
Navigator Schools Director of Community Outreach Kirsten Carr said in a prepared statement that the charter organization is, “thrilled to become a part of the educational community in Watsonville.”
“As a public school, we know the importance of creating educational opportunities for all students and we look forward to partnering with our colleagues in PVUSD to do just that.”
But the relationship between Navigator and the district has had a rough start.
The Pajaro Valley Unified School Board of Trustees denied the organization’s charter petition in May, and the Santa Cruz County Office of Education did the same on appeal in August.
Carr said that many hopeful parents advocated for WPS for months, traveling to the Santa Cruz County Office of Education and ultimately to the State Board of Education to plead their case. That board approved Navigator during their final appeal in January.
Throughout the approval process, PVUSD officials expressed concern that the new charter would siphon off Average Daily Attendance state funding from the district. Teachers, many of whom lack their own classrooms, wondered where the new school would be housed.
PVUSD trustee Kim DeSerpa said she is concerned about the affect the charter will have, most notably the immediate loss of $2 million in the first year from the district’s general fund. That number will rise to more than $4 million annually once the school is established.
“This is not a partnership that PVUSD welcomes,” she said. “It takes away from every student in the district. My job is to be a steward for public education, and I have to balance the budget. This deficit is going to hurt.”
Under current law, public school districts have little recourse to deny charter schools, if they meet certain requirements. They cannot do so based on the potential financial effects.
State law also requires the districts to provide space for new charters.
California lawmakers are currently working on several pieces of legislation to change the laws governing charter schools, and “curtail their unbridled growth” statewide, DeSerpa said.
PVUSD Board President Karen Osmundson did not return a call seeking comment.
Gov. Gavin Newsom on March 3 approved Senate Bill 126, which requires that charter schools follow the same open meeting rules as public ones.
A package of bills by California Assembly members include AB 1505, which would give school districts the sole authority to deny a charter, instead of allowing the charters to appeal to a county board of education.
AB 1506 would place a cap of charter schools allowed in the state at 1,323, which is the current number. New ones could open only when another closes.
AB 1508 would allow school districts to consider financial, academic and facilities impacts when considering charters.
The Assembly bills are winding their way through the lengthy review processes.
Angela Zamora said her son, Liam, will be in the first class of kindergarten at Navigator’s new school in the fall.
“When I found out Liam got an offer for admission to WPS, I felt extremely relieved knowing he was going to be able to attend this new school and not be on the waitlist,” Zamora said. “I am so excited to see everything this school is going to be able to offer him.”
Navigator Schools currently runs K-8 charter schools in Gilroy and Hollister. WPS will be the third Navigator school to open since its inception in 2011.
Carr said that Navigator officials hope to create the same type of relationship with PVUSD that the charter organization has with school districts in those cities.
“In both of these districts we have done shared professional development, cross collaborated on best practices, and shared curriculum and materials as much as possible,” she said in an emailed statement.
Carr pointed out that many WPS students will eventually go to PVUSD high schools, “illustrating the fact these are students everyone in the educational arena is hoping to and trying to serve.”
“As a public school, preparing students to be successful in their local comprehensive high school is a strong driver in our efforts to close the achievement gap,” Carr stated.
To highlight the support she says Navigator has, and the success of its two other schools, Carr pointed to the numbers of people from those districts who came to the January State Board of Education appeal to speak in favor of WPS.
“It is this type of relationship we want to establish with the teachers and leaders in PVUSD,” she said.
Navigator schools has an open door policy, Carr said.
Any interested PVUSD trustee, district staff and instructional staff member is invited to visit WPS once the school is open.
For information, visit www.watsonvilleprep.org.