Almond Acres Charter Academy’s charter petition appeal to operate in Paso Robles will be decided Thursday by the San Luis Obispo County Board of Education.

County Office of Education staff is recommending denial of the appeal because AACA’s petition did not meet the standards for charter schools set in the California Education Code — “Petitioners are Demonstrably Unlikely to Successfully Implement the Program Set Forth in the Petition” and “The Petition Fails to Contain a Reasonably Comprehensive Description of all 15 Required Elements set forth in Education Code.”

Almond Acres Charter Academy has been operating since the 2012-2013 school year as a charter school authorized by the San Miguel Joint Union School District under a recently-renewed charter with a term ending June 30, 2022.

AACA Board of Directors member Edward Surber took issue with the staff’s recommendation.

“Regarding AACA’s ability (or not) to perform as a successful school or not, the only response to this is that we’ve performed at or above state standards for the past eight years,” Surber said. 

AACA purchased a 3.1-acre property at 1145 Niblick Rd. in 2019, intending to relocate in 2021 to Paso Robles, where roughly 70 percent of its families reside. The tuition-free public charter school serves nearly 300 students in North SLO County.

If the County Board of Education denies the appeal, it must also, in writing, cite why based on the California Education Code.

County staff also points out the financial impacts AACA would have on the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District, stating, “The school district is not positioned to absorb the fiscal impact of the proposed charter school.”

AACA’s petition is before the County Board of Education because PRJUSD’s School Board took no action on it back on April 28. AACA then submitted its appeal to the County Board of Education on June 18. This triggers a 90-day window for the board to take action.

The same reasons cited by the County Office of Education were also part of PRJUSD’s staff report.

“We provided detailed counters to each and every point in the original PRJUSD staff report,” said Surber. “The SLOCOE Board has been set up to deny our petition appeal based on similar claims. Essentially, nothing new was discovered or cited.”

According to the County Office of Education, PRJUSD has been deficit spending for the past three years. Its average daily attendance declined in 2019-20 and the district projects this to continue in subsequent years.

“District schools are not at full capacity, which would make the addition of the Charter School not only redundant, but harmful to the District’s most vulnerable students,” County schools staff stated in its recommendation to the County Board of Education.

Surber says PRJUSD finances are what is fueling the denial.

“SLOCOE is clearly supporting the PRJUSD here because the PRJUSD has failed to perform financially (and perhaps academically) for the past 5-10 years and in fact, have gotten themselves into a sticky financial situation. It’s much easier to make AACA go away and force the majority of the 300 students and their families to attend one of the PRJUSD schools than it is for them to have to compete with AACA. Adding 200-plus students to their district brings in a lot of cash…at the tune of about $8,000 per student.

The County Board of Education held a public hearing on Aug. 6, to determine the level of support for the petition. It received “strong support for the school and educational program expressed by parents, employees students, and community members at the public hearing.”

If AACA’s appeal is denied, it has some time to figure out its next steps before its charter with San Miguel expires. AACA started the current year with distance learning.

“We have back up plans to keep the school open, but it becomes very difficult to do so if this vote doesn’t go our way,” Surber said.

The County Education Board meeting is at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 3. It is open to the public but is taking place via Zoom. Information can be found here.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles