BCSD votes NO to the CAAT petition for a charter school

August 24, 2022 /

The Bakersfield City School District voted NO on the Central for Arts and Technology (CAAT) petition to build a charter school on Tuesday night. 

The decision came after controversy with the community asking the board to say no because the resources should be placed within the public school already existing in the district. Tuesday night, 26 people submitted public comments in opposition to the petition and five spoke in favor of the petition. 

Those in opposition consisted of youth, members of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, and educators. 

“Charter schools are not what our BCSD students need,” said Lila Perez, a kindergarten teacher for BCSD. “We want to be equal in servicing all students, not selected students, but all students. Our English language learners, our special ed students, everyone that is within our Bakersfield City families have an opportunity of equal education which I feel Charter schools don’t afford all students that opportunity.”

Throughout the allotted time youth asked the board to say no to the petition and instead invest in more programs like dual immersion and after-school programs.

Along with not wanting the charter school because of funding and resources two women spoke about an incident they saw at the last board meeting where the petition was discussed on August second. 

Lori Pesante spoke during the school safety portion of the meeting and Cecilia Lopez spoke during the public hearing about the petition. Both recalled seeing a woman yelling and causing commotion then grabbing one of the community members that spoke against the petition. 

“One of the people petitioning the board for something on the agenda item, they were not happy with the people speaking against it and they ended up walking out in the lobby after several youth speakers went into the lobby. As I went out into the lobby I saw this person lay hands on one of the adult speakers,” recalled Pesante. We get to say things, we get to disagree with people, we don’t get to lay hands on people.”

Pesante said as she scanned the situation she would never forget when saw the youth standing there with looks on their faces that said “what is happening, am I safe?” three security officers and an administrator had to approach this person before they would leave. 

Lopez spoke to the same incident saying she was happy she did not bring her children to the last meeting and raised the question of if this person acts like that now, then how will they act when getting the funds for the school?

After the meeting Tuesday, Pesante said she later realized the woman was Melisa Alsop. 

“She was yelling at people trying to talk to people directly and trying to find specific people too and the person in front of me, the person who was being disruptive, grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled her back,” said Pesante. “Then I found out later that it was one of the board of directors for the CAAT charter school. It was Milisa Alsop.

After those in opposition, the public comment was open to those who were in favor of the school, including Alsop. 

Also spoke about having four kids and that one of them who is in college now could not read when she was in the 3rd grade. Alsop stated that they applied and “did the lottery” and they were able to get into a charter school that was able to help her daughter. 

“For us, it was a miracle, for us it was a great thing, for us it was a great choice at a time when we couldn’t afford private school. We didn’t have a choice other than to go to our neighborhood school,” said Alsop. 

She continued to ask the board to say yes to the charter school to offer the students a different pathway. 

“I just really hope you’ll consider that we’re doing the same thing over and over again with our schools and something a little bit different could be just the answer,” said Alsop.

Ingrid Bernsten-James spoke about giving the choice to families who can not afford to move their children to a different school. Bernsten-James stated that she was there for families who could not afford to take a day off to see the schools and why their children are not doing that well.

“Let our CAAT be an alternative for the near 350 students we will have, a little over 1% of BCSD total mass,” said Bernsten-James. 

Community members were not the only ones to oppose the charter school, during the BCSD recommendations presented by their executive director, Dr. Tim Fulenwider, whose findings led them to recommend the board deny the petition. 

The findings included:

  • The petition presents an unsound educational program for English Learners
  • The petition presents an unsound educational program for Students with Disabilities
  • The petition presents an unsound educational program for Socio-Economically Disadvantaged students,
  • Petitioners continue to demonstrate a lack of understanding of community, school, and district demographics and conditions, making successful implementation of the program unlikely. Petitioners also demonstrate a lack of understanding of professional development and program implementation, making successful implementation of the program unlikely.
  • Findings I through 3, with the factual support for each, are incorporated
  • by this reference to support the conclusion that Petitioners are
  • demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program promised
  • by the petition.
  • The petition continues to fail to provide a reasonably comprehensive
  • description of required program elements.
    • Element 1 – Educational Program
    • Element 4 – Governance
    • Element 5 – Employee Qualifications
    • Element 6 – Health and Safety
    • Element 7 – Racial and Ethnic Balance
    • Element 8 – Admissions Policies and Procedures
  • Petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to serve the interests of the entire community in which the charter school is proposing to locate.
  • The petition is not supported by the requisite signatures to establish a charter school.

Two main questions asked by Dr. Chris Chris Cruz Boone asked the petitioners during their presentation what their plan for transportation and students with special needs would be. For transportation her question revolved around there not being a plan to provide transportation for all students and that by law the schools must provide transportation to special needs students who need it. 

Joanna Kendrick who presented the petition said if it is in the IEP of that student then they will provide transportation. Boone asked about students who live in low-income families because those students are who would be directly around the school district. 

Kendrick said after the school is open if they need to pivot they could reassess and get transportation, however, it is currently not in the plan or budget to provide transportation to all students. 

Following the meeting, Kendrick said they did not want to comment on the decision but would plan to re-submit a petition for the school. 

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JaNell Gore

Ja'Nell Gore is a student at Cal State Bakersfield. In addition to writing for Kern Sol News she is a poet who loves any chance she has to perform and be with her community.