Bakersfield community members attended the Bakersfield City School District (BCSD) meeting Tuesday night to oppose the Central Academy for Arts and Technology (CAAT) petition to build a charter school in downtown Bakersfield.
Matt Gutierrez, a founding board member of CAAT, stated that they started this effort around 2019 and it was stalled due to COVID-19.
“We’re looking at this area because it’s an area of need,” said Gutierrez. “It’s one of the lowest performing districts in the entire state. As a parent of the school district I’ve seen my own kids struggle to get the support that they need.”
Dolores Huerta, youth, parents, and advocates from the Dolores Huerta Foundation (DHF) asked for the district to vote no on the petition and instead invest in the existing schools of the district that need more resources. 20 people in total attended the meeting to speak in opposition.
“I don’t feel like it’s fair that these charter schools are taking what public schools need the most. Please vote no on the CAAT petition, August 23rd,” said high school student and former BCSD student, Katherine Chaidez.
Resources they asked the district to invest in included; better transportation, different lunch food options, STEAM, dual immersion programs, and mental health.
“Taking funds from our public schools to move it to a charter school is taking funds away from improving the schools for our existing students,” said Nadine Escalante, mother and education advocate. “What I’m hearing is parents speak about transportation issues. We can’t have children walking on unsafe roads.”
Another issue the community members had with the petition is a lack of transparency. According to Ashley De La Rosa, Education Policy Director for DHF, the petition was originally submitted in February followed by a public hearing, and then retracted before the board could make a decision.
The petition was then resubmitted on June 1 and the community was not made aware of the petition. The community sees that as an issue because it is being handled over the summer when most teachers and parents are on breaks and not able to participate in the process.
“June is a time when a lot of teachers (and) families are on vacation. There’s not a lot of opportunities to engage so we know that this is a tactic to keep the community quiet,” said De La Rosa.
According to De La Rosa, the charter will pull from the title nine funding for the area that would typically go into the public school. De La Rosa said the district does not have money to spare to go into the charter school.
Gutierrez said the charter school will not pull away from the other schools and will be a public charter school.
“There’s actually more funding available for charter schools through the district and so it won’t take away from funding from schools. That’s something I heard through that meeting repeatedly and it’s false,” said Gutierrez.
Gutierrez was the only person to speak in favor of the charter and was not happy with the comments being made in opposition. He stated that the charter school was not on the agenda Tuesday and they almost had nobody there to speak in favor of the school.
“Many of the concerns I’m hearing tonight are unfounded or simply inaccurate. It’s important that you see that the empty rhetoric that has been used over and over again to try to deny families access to school choice, said Gutierrez. “Many of the things stated here are either false or misleading and it’s these racial tropes designed to be inflammatory like tokenizing students that are just ignorant and intellectually lazy.”
Gutierrez stated that they are aware that low-income students, English learners, and students with special needs are the furthest behind and they are dedicated to helping them.
Prior to the meeting, the Dolores Huerta Foundation held a press conference expressing its concerns for the charter school. Youth filled the steps of the BCSD building holding signs showing their stance.
Some of the signs just said no to the charter school and others played off the ‘Little Miss’ social media trend. For example, “Little Miss Anti-Charter” and “Miss apoyar escuelas publicas”. One student held a sign saying “What about US? #PUBLICSchool”. Nevertheless, every sign showed the passion each student had for not wanting a charter school.
The final decision for the school will be made on August 23.