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The Cotati-Rohnert Park School Board has called a special meeting Monday to consider launching the process leading to the revocation of Credo High School's charter.

Administrators from Sonoma County's third largest school district have accused officials from the two-year-old Waldorf-inspired high school of fiscal mismanagement, not fulfilling its educational commitments and falling far below enrollment expectations.

"I do not see, unfortunately, their ability to be fiscally viable with the amount of students they have been able to attract. With the amount of debt they have, I don't see how they can continue as a viable fiscal entity," said Cotati-Rohnert Park Superintendent Robert Haley.

"It's unfortunate. I feel sorry for those involved. I know they have given their time and their energy (but) my responsibility is to the Cotati-Rohnert Park board," he said. "So my advice is that they continue with revocation."

Cotati-Rohnert Park, which oversees Credo as an independent charter, is responsible for fiscal oversight and ensuring the school is following its charter.

If the board votes Monday night to issue the notice of violation to Credo, the charter school backers have until July 26 to either refute or remedy the charges.

Credo Director Chip Romer said the school deserves a chance to take root.

"We recognize that this is a district that is trying to reinvent itself and Credo is offering a really great educational program that is highly successful by multiple measures and we will be a feather in their cap if they will let us get out of the start up phase," he said.

Credo opened its doors in 2011 to 39 students, well below early projections of 100. Each year, the school has fallen below enrollment expectations and district officials have accused Credo administrators of not making adequate staffing and financial adjustments requisite with lower enrollment.

The school enrolled 80 students last year and expects 108 in 2013-14, 154 in 2014-15 and 172 in 2015-16.

School officials had originally projected much faster growth, but backers say the school could still grow to accommodate more than 600 ninth through 12th graders because of the popularity of the Waldorf philosophy in the area.

Credo, which rents space in the former Richard Crane Elementary School site on Southwest Boulevard in Rohnert Park for $2,500 a month, runs a "Waldorf-inspired" curriculum that adheres to an low-technology, arts- and language-heavy curriculum with elective classes that typically include black and white printmaking, book binding and blacksmithing.

The Waldorf name is trademarked and affiliated with private schools. Credo is the only public Waldorf-inspired high school in the North Bay, although there are seven Waldorf-inspired kindergarten through eighth grade schools in the North Bay.

Credo is required to meet state and federal academic standards.

Credo students hit 822 on the State Academic Performance Index in the most recent data available. The state goal is 800 out of a possible 1,000.

The district's other two high schools, Rancho Cotate High and the dependent charter, Technology High, earned 744 and 916, respectively.

Conflict has also arisen over the school's lack of accreditation, with the district contending the school is not likely ever to earn accreditation because of its fiscal instability.

But Romer said the process is under way. An application was submitted in April and a site visit is expected in the fall, he said.

The school cannot get a so-called A-through-G college preparatory curriculum approved by the state university systems without full accreditation. Completion of the A through G courses is necessary to apply to any California State University and University of California campus.

Romer, who has helped develop another Waldorf-inspired school, acknowledged the difficulty of addressing publicly some of the district's concerns as school officials mount their pitch to stay operational.

"I know that our enrolled students' families are super satisfied and highly committed," Romer said. "I think the incoming families are equally committed."

Yet in a 22-page letter dated June 21 from Haley to the Governing Board of Credo High School, the superintendent said the charter school operators had "engaged in fiscal mismanagement, violated provisions of its charter and provisions of law."

The district became concerned with issues of non-compliance in January, 2012, just five months after the school opened, according to Haley.

In January, the district told Credo staff that the school could not operate after district officials discovered Credo's workers compensation insurance coverage had lapsed. When a school official asked if Credo could open under the expectation that coverage would re-start immediately, district officials changed the locks on the campus gate.

The school remained closed for five days.

District officials also allege Credo failed to pay employees in a timely manner six times between May 10, 2012 and Nov. 20, 2012.

The school is currently behind in both its PG&E and City of Rohnert Park utilities payments, according to the district. It also owes the school district nearly $13,000 for special education costs. Another $38,000-$48,000 will be due for 2012-13.

The school has taken out multiple loans and is deficit spending.

"It is clear that Credo is relying on new debt to pay existing debt and does not have a plan to eliminate debt, eliminate deficit spending, and/or maintain a reserve," Haley wrote.

Credo currently has $397,200 in debt,including loans from the state of California, Charter Schools Capital and an individual supporter.

"I'm not convinced that they have viability in the long term. Their financials are not clear to me," said Cotati-Rohnert Park School Board President Marc Orloff.

Board member Ed Gilardi has expressed concern that district staff are spending too much time monitoring Credo while also tasking with ongoing district business.

It was only in March that the 5,770-student district shed its "negative" financial status, along with a fiscal minder who had stay and rescind power over budget decisions. But even so, a county budget official told the board at that time that the elevation from negative to qualified will not last under the district's current plan which includes deficit spending of $3 million a year.

"There has been a huge negative impact on staff time," Gilardi said at the district's June 11 board meeting. "We are spending our taxpayer dollars overseeing you guys which we never should have been doing. In my view, it's a win-lose. It's not working."

But Romer and other school backers said the program has improved its financial oversight and structured a more realistic growth plan with less aggressive enrollment projections.

"I really want to assure the district that we are an asset to them and that we want to be here for the long haul and we want to have a really collaborative working relationship with them," he said.

(Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press democrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.)

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