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Sunnyvale School District Rescinds Conditional Approval of Spark Charter School Petition

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SUNNYVALE – At a special board meeting, April 29, 2014, the Board of Education voted to rescind its conditional approval of the Spark Charter School petition.

In October 2013, the Board received a petition from a group of parents proposing to establish Spark Charter School within the District. After conducting a comprehensive evaluation of the petition, District officials concluded that Spark’s proposal contained numerous problems. Some of the issues involved the lack of specific curriculum, significant parent participation requirements that the District believed created a barrier to enrollment, and various budgetary concerns that called into question the fiscal viability of the program.

On November 21, 2013, the Board passed a resolution for the conditional approval of the petition. Superintendent Ben Picard said, “At the time, rather than denying the petition, the Board wanted to give Spark an opportunity to correct the deficiencies, address the Board’s concerns, and resubmit their proposal.”

The resolution listed conditions that were designed to correct the issues with the Spark petition and provided Spark five months to meet the conditions with a deadline of April 1, 2014. Among the conditions included a requirement for the charter school to remove the expectation for parents to sign agreements to volunteer, for Spark to submit documentation to establish enrollment of 250 students and to establish its revenue sources. According to the resolution, if Spark failed to meet the conditions by April 1, 2014, the Board’s conditional approval must be rescinded.

The petition was resubmitted on April 1. However, review of the resubmitted petition revealed that Spark did not meet the majority of the conditions in material ways, resulting in the Board’s rescission of its conditional approval.

The Board adopted a report explaining its decision. According to the report, the lack of adequate details and operational specifics regarding the proposed educational program contributed to the rescission. This included the lack of 6 through 8 grade curriculum, the expectation of parent participation and heavy reliance on parent participation for the delivery of the educational program, lack of identification of textbooks and/or instructional materials, and lack of a plan for middle school students despite the school’s proposal to serve grades 6 to 8. It was also noted that Spark did not submit any of the documentation requested regarding its enrollment or budget items to address the concerns regarding the fiscal stability and sustainability of the charter school.

The Board acknowledged the work and dedication of the Petitioners but also discussed the compressed timeline. Board Member Arnett said that with more time spent in the planning stages, these issues might have been addressed. The lack of 6 through 8 grade curriculum was noted by Board member Newkirk to be key to her concerns in that without a curriculum there is no means to evaluate the program and hold the charter school accountable. Petitioners stated that the curriculum was not required at this stage because they will not serve 6-8 students this year. However, Board members noted that the charter would be in effect for all of the years of operation and needed to set forth the entire educational program for that term.

Several Board members reiterated that the conditions were intended to ensure that Spark would be able to establish and sustain a successful school and that they felt the Petitioners had the ability to meet the conditions. However, by not meeting these conditions and correcting the problems, the District simply did not believe that Spark could successfully maintain an educational program for the benefit of Sunnyvale students.

Benjamin H. Picard, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools


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