Promise and Tubman Charter Schools
Two Charters Told to Shape Up or Shut Down
April 7, 2011
by Emily Alpert

The San Diego Unified School District is poised to warn two charter
schools that if they don't change their ways, they could be shut down.

Promise Charter in Chollas View and Tubman Village Charter School in
College Area have been under investigation for two months as San
Diego Unified sorts through a storm of allegations about them, hiring
an outside group to help dig through documents and do interviews.

In a draft letter, the school district excoriated Promise Charter for a
long list of alleged problems, including violating the state law that
requires it to hold open meetings, keeping faulty financial statements,
and not following legal rules on student suspensions that require
parents to be informed of their rights.

The district challenged whether Promise was meeting the educational
pledges it set forth in its own guidelines, arguing it lacked an
appropriate program for English learners and didn't provide the
instructional time it had promised.

The school district also says Promise failed to report allegations of
child abuse. Parents who back the Promise principal, Jose Orozco,
argue he has rightfully tried to quash inappropriate behavior between
teachers and students. San Diego Unified does not go into detail about
the alleged behavior in its report, but it says while the principal tried to
stop inappropriate behavior by adopting new policies, "they are
apparently not being followed or enforced with success" since "nothing
has been successful in curbing the allegations, or apparently the

San Diego Unified also argued that Promise violated its own rules
about who should sit on its charter board. Major changes on the
Promise board were one source of disputes at the school, as different
camps of teachers and parents argued over who should have power at
the Chollas View school. It concluded several former members of the
Promise board were improperly unseated and that at least four of the
Promise board members were not legitimately elected, invalidating their
later votes.

And the whole report calls into question whether Principal Orozco is
equipped to be a principal at Promise under its own charter rules,
pointing out that he doesn't have an administrative or teaching

"Most, if not all of the issues surrounding the legal and charter
violations identified herein, as well as the variety of complaints being
lodged about the school's operations, all can be traced back to
leadership both in the administration and the Board, none of whom
appear to have the necessary experience in operating a public school
or spending public dollars," a draft letter to the school from Deputy
Superintendent Nellie Meyer concluded.

Orozco, in turn, argues that he has been tackling many of the very
issues that the report addresses, such as inappropriate behavior and
shoddy financial statements. He complained that the school district
failed to pick up on those problems before he became principal and
was now targeting him as he tried to fix them. He also contested some
of the findings in the report; for instance, the report claimed that
Orozco had violated conflict of interest rules by voting to ratify his own
employment contract, based on meeting minutes. Orozco said that
never happened.

As for his credentials, Orozco argued that test scores went up on his
watch. "That has to say something about my leadership," Orozco said.
"Imagine what will happen four years from now."

To fix the problems, the school district is insisting that Promise either
prove the problems did not actually occur or show they have been
solved. It specifically wants Promise to show that student discipline and
education programs for English learners comply with the law, remake
its board to comply with its own rules, figure out how to elect its board
members, record all its board meetings, and hire an administrator who
is credentialed and experienced in operating a public school. Orozco
said their board would work together to decide how to respond.

"Promise has demonstrated a wholesale failure to understand and
comply with the legal, fiscal, and charter requirements," the draft letter
from Meyer reads. "It is clear that Promise is either blatantly
disregarding its obligations or is unable to meet them, even with

Tubman Village Charter School had a much shorter list of violations,
including violating state laws that require open meetings, failing to take
meeting minutes that are sufficiently detailed, and not following its own
rules about how to constitute its charter board.

The school district also said it was concerned that Tubman had yet to
settle on a labor agreement with its teachers, years after they opted to
join the union. Unlike Promise, which got a list of specific changes to
make, Tubman was asked simply to either rebut the violations or fix
them. Principal Lidia Scinski could not be reached immediately
Wednesday night for comment.

Charter schools are publicly funded but independently run and
overseen by school districts. If they mismanage their money, fall short
in student achievement or violate their own rules, school districts can
shut them down. However, charters can also contest the findings and
appeal to the County Board of Education to stay open.

The school board is scheduled to vote Tuesday whether to send the
warning letters to the schools. If it does, Promise and Tubman will have
a little more than a month to show that they've fixed the problems or
proven the district wrong. You can read the full letters that San Diego
Unified could opt to send to the charters here and here. The San
Diego Unified board is slated to vote on whether to send the warnings
at its meeting next Tuesday.
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