MERCED — Almond Grove Charter School proponents are pondering their next move.
Earlier this week, the Merced County Board of Education denied an appeal of a plan previously rejected by McSwain trustees to allow a charter school in their area.
Trustees Evelyn Eagleton, David March and Fred Honore voted Tuesday afternoon to deny the Almond Grove appeal while Trustee Mary Ellen Chavez opposed the motion. Trustee Gloria Honey was absent.
Almond Grove proponents can appeal the county board's denial to the state Board of Education. Dena Melin of Atwater, one of the group's leaders, said members haven't decided if they will appeal the decision to the state.
The earliest the issue could be heard in Sacramento is May, but the group is facing a June 30 deadline to get the charter school approved so that it can use a $575,000 federal start-up planning grant.
Steven Gomes, Merced County superintendent of schools, said Almond Grove proponents were deficient on 29 of the 56 required criteria in a review by Merced County Office of Education administrators.
Gomes said the MCOE review found that Almond Grove advocates have not yet comprehensively developed all elements necessary to successfully implement a public school.
McSwain trustees turned down the original petition at their Dec. 4 meeting.
The deficiencies include an unsound educational program, efforts lacking in meeting the needs of English learners, no measurable educational outcomes and unreasonable budget assumptions for facility acquisitions and improvements, teacher salaries and administrative expenses.
"There are some things that should have been nailed down," Gomes said. "It's like building the plane while you're flying it. A lot of things can go awry. You need as good a plan as you can to get started. The cumulative effect of all 29 deficiencies is it's not likely to be educationally sound."
Chavez pushed for the item to be postponed until the board's March meeting.
"I wouldn't mind thinking about this some more," Chavez said. "I'd rather wait to vote and work through this again. What's the harm in postponing this decision?"
Melin said plans were to start in 2014 with 104 children in kindergarten through second grade, adding a grade each year up to eighth grade until 200 to 250 students are enrolled. She said no site has been picked out for the charter school.
"There are no concerns that could not be overcome," Melin said. "The Almond Grove team is committed to responsible fiscal planning."
In October, 70 families signed the petition to establish the charter school and 89 other community members supported it, Melin said.
Janie Schuesler, one of the group's leaders, said parents want a smaller school with a different atmosphere. She said Almond Grove's options include rewriting their application and reapplying to another district.
March said Almond Grove's planning document is flawed, and that it would take more than 30 days to correct deficiencies. He said he doubted the 29 flaws pinpointed by the MCOE reviewers could be corrected.
Attorney Lisa A. Corr of Sacramento, representing Almond Grove, said she was not sure if her group would go to the state Board of Education. She urged the board to give the charter school every opportunity to succeed with conditions and was confident differences could be worked out.
"I don't believe you have the facts to support denial," Corr said. "With conditions, time lines and benchmarks, this allows us to prove we are ready to serve students."
Honore said the matter should be kicked up to the state level. He said he thought state educational officials could come up with better solutions than local educators.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.