Schools’ alternative credits policy on hold

It may be May – or even June – before the Sonoma Valley Unified School District board revises a policy concerning alternative credits toward graduation.

The proposed policy highlights revisions that better reflect how students gain access to and approval to obtain alternative credit; the options available to obtain alternative credit; when alternative credit does and does not count toward graduation and grade-point average; and how alternative credit is recorded within student transcripts.

The board took up the matter at its March 11 meeting, but board president Helen Marsh cautioned that it could be May or June before the board passes the revised policy.

“The board will comment at April’s meeting,” she said. “But we want to revise this policy so it will be in effect for the next school year.”

And while members of the audience applauded the fact that students need alternatives, most suggested a committee comprised of a board member, school administration, parents and students should iron out the policy.

Deborah Steward, who runs SoloQuest, told the board that the policy doesn’t address the education code. “This isn’t in compliance with the (state’s) education code,” she said. “It says that districts shall and will accept classes in World Languages.”

She said the way the policy is written, “fail first is not a good approach.” And Stewart asked the board to form a committee to rewrite the policy.

Page Knef, a Sonoma Valley High School junior, said she wants to be taking college courses early. “College classes are free to high school students,” she said. “Parts of the policy are just too vague.”

Tiffany Knef, Page Knef’s mother, said the new policy needs to be well defined and also suggested a committee be formed.

“Some areas need to be addressed,” she said. “For example, the new policy allows just 20 college credits, down from 40 in the old policy.” And she said if the district doesn’t address this, it would continue to lose high school students.

Julie Jay, mother of a freshman, said the old policy is outdated (it was written in 2006) and said alternative credits are needed because there’s a lack of electives at the high school.

Ann Shea told the board it was important to update the policy.

“Look at it as an opportunity,” she said. “This feels restrictive rather than enabling. This is an opportunity for kids who have different learning styles.”

She too said the policy shouldn’t be a “fail first” policy and echoed the call for a committee to hash out the details.

“We don’t have to reinvent this policy,” she continued. “Other districts have done it.” And she suggested taking a look at the policies from other districts.

Of the nine people who addressed the board, only John Kelly wasn’t enamored of a committee. “A committee would be pushed hard,” he said to have the policy in place before the start of the next school year.

After the parents had their say, Marsh suggested that if anyone has specific ideas about the policy, they should submit them to school administrators. “Send them to Louann (Carlomagno) or Kathleen (Hawing), she said. We want to have an improved policy in place.”

In other business, the board received the second interim financial report that showed the district is on pace to receive a 6-to-7 percent increase in local taxes this year.

Deputy Superintendent Justin Frese told the board that the 6-plus percent hike would mean an additional $1 million to the district’s general fund. But he cautioned that tax growth expectations in the next two years should be tempered at 2 percent a year.

Frese told the board that because of a change in state funding, the district could be back to being a revenue limit district by the 2015-16 school year.

Currently the district is a basic-aid district meaning its tax revenues are higher than the money the state allots to revenue limit districts, which make up about 90 percent of the state’s school districts.

And Frese pointed out that the projected deficits will shrink dramatically in the next couple of years. The district is looking at a $2.1 million deficit this fiscal year, but only a $295,000 deficit in 2014-15 and about a $70,000 deficit the following year.

In other action, the board approved a move by the Sonoma Charter School to incorporate.

Charter School Director Kevin Kassebaum said currently the school is not incorporated and that 85 percent of the charter schools in the state are incorporated.

“When the Charter School was founded, it was not on the radar,” he told the board. But not being incorporated is not the best practice moving forward.

He said it adds legal protection and would make the school a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. “The governance structure would stay the same,” he added.

The board approved the school’s articles of incorporation.

The board also:

• Approved a tentative calendar for the 2014-15 school year.

• Recognized Eliza Neeley and Kohana Bowman as Altimira Middle School’s students of the year.

• Approved resolutions recognizing Cesar Chavez Day; the Day of the Bus Driver; Classified School Employees Week; and the California Day of the Teacher.