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Clayton Valley Charter Saga Continues Tonight at MDUSD Meeting

The school board will meet tonight at 7 p.m. and is scheduled to hear a report on the status of the charter school application, but no vote is expected.

Clayton Valley Charter Saga Continues Tonight at MDUSD Meeting

Once again, Clayton Valley charter supporters are expected to pack the  for a board meeting. And, once again, the board is not expected to vote on the petition to convert Clayton Valley High into a charter school.

Tonight is the latest chapter in what has become a contentious political fight over the future of . 

Charter supporters want to move quickly to convert their public high school, but the school district says it must make certain that the details of the charter are in place before approving the conversion.

Supporters, concerned they might be running out of time to open Clayton Valley as a charter school by next fall, pushed hard to have a final vote taken on their petition tonight.

When the board , it asked for 56 conditions to be met before full approval. Though the board gave a February, 2012 deadline for the conditions, charter advocates on Oct. 13  had done so.

But Superintendent Steven Lawrence said Friday there would . Lawrence says that Bryan Richards, the district's chief financial officer, only received the proposed charter school's final fiscal report on Thursday, which did not leave him enough time to review it. 

"It is unreasonable to expect [Richards] to conduct a thorough analysis in the three intervening business days between receipt and the board meeting," Lawrence said.

Neil McChesney, a teacher at Clayton Valley and one of the main architects of the charter, says he believes the district is stalling.

"I know Bryan Richards has a lot of schools to look over, but he has had basically the same budget from us for a long time," McChesney said. "He asked us to change something and we made a tweak to it. It's not as though we changed our entire fiscal outlook last week."

Schism on MDUSD Board

Not only are charter supporters frustrated with the district, but so is at least one board member.

, board member Cheryl Hansen called for a charter petition vote at tonight's meeting. Not only was her request denied, but, as the Contra Costa Times reported, Hanson was told by Board President Gary Eberhart that she would not be allowed to attend district staff meetings about the charter.

Hansen went to a meeting anyway, but on her way she was intercepted by Eberhart, who again told her she couldn't attend. After a discussion, Hansen declined to attend because she didn't want to interrupt.

"What we actually have here is a serious case of obstruction of a board member by another board member without any authority or merit," Hansen said in an email to the Times.

Eberhart told the Times, "A single board member does not have the authority to place his or herself inside legal negotiations for the district... That's something that the board would decide as a whole."

Racing Against the Clock

It's not a rejection from the MDUSD board that charter supporters fear most; it's time.

If the MDUSD board eventually denies the petition, the decision can be appealed to the Contra Costa Office of Education and then to the state Board of Education.

But, it could take the county up to 90 days to vote on the charter petition if the MDUSD board rejects it. And, if the county denies the petition, it could take another six months until the state Board of Education makes a decision, McChesney said.

The longer the appeal process drags on, the less likely it is that Clayton Valley could open as a charter school for the 2012-13 school year.

For the charter school to secure funding, hire an executive director and establish a new special education program, says McChesney, the petition needs to be approved as soon as possible.

On Sunday, the charter committee asked the district to vote on the charter in an emergency meeting later this week. As of Monday night, the district had not gotten back to the charter committee about the request, McChesney said.

If the board votes on the charter at its next meeting, on Nov. 8, McChesney said "we can make that work." But, since charter supporters expected there would be a vote tonight, they are hesitant to trust the district.

Another option, McChesney said, is to take the district to court. Charter lawyers would argue that the Sept. 15 board decision to grant approval with conditions was essentially a "de facto-denial."

"In almost every discussion we have we talk about [taking the district to court]," McChesney said. "Our ultimate goal is taking the fastest pathway to approval. "Tuesday night will be telling and probably on Wednesday we'll decide what we want to do next."

You can follow the meeting live and contribute with questions and comments , which will start at 6:45 p.m. You can sign up now for an email reminder.

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