Mayacamas Charter Middle School in Napa likely to open next week as legal battle looms

Mayacamas Charter Middle School organizers are preparing to open the downtown Napa school for the first time next week, in the midst of a legal battle that’s threatening to shut the school down.|

Mayacamas Charter Middle School organizers are preparing to open the downtown Napa school for the first time next week amid a legal battle that’s threatening to shut the school down.

But owing to that legal uncertainty, the school will be opening in a stripped-down manner, without investing into items that require “a significant outlay of cash,” according to an update to the Napa County Office of Education board Aug. 1 from Lauren Daley and Jolene Yee, the two main petitioners for the Mayacamas school.

That includes implementation of PowerSchool software — a student information and management system — plus plans for teacher professional development, preparing the school’s former St. John the Baptist Catholic School site, and finalizing paperwork for food services, school organizers told the Napa County Office of Education last week.

Furthermore, there is expected attrition among teachers and the student body given the situation. So, the Mayacamas budget — based on funding that is tied to enrollment — has been reworked, the petitioners stated.

“We had a few teachers leave to find alternative work given the situation, but are comfortable with our backup plan given our lower planned student body in year one,” the petitioners told the board.

“Our community continues to be very positive about opening Mayacamas, and we have a significant number of letters to the editor espousing the benefits of Mayacamas and the need for our school in the community.”

The petitioners also said they’re working on a countywide benefit charter petition — for which they filed a notice to the county office July 11. That would, the petitioners believe, allow the school to operate through the new charter application should the county board approve it.

The battle over the Mayacamas school has been raging for about two years.

The California State Board of Education essentially approved the charter school in September 2022, when it voted to overturn the two prior denials from the Napa Valley Unified School District board and the Office of Education board. Those denials came in part due to the financial impact the charter school would have on district finances, among other reasons.

But the school district legally contested the authority of the state board to overturn the local district denials in November that year, based on how a 2019 state law known as Assembly Bill 1505 was supposed to have limited the state board’s authority.

Prior to the law, the state board acted as a third layer of potential approval for charter schools, able to independently decide whether or not to approve the charter.

A charter school organization could, in essence, have their charter petition be denied by the local district they seek to situate in, then appeal to the county district and again be denied, and then appeal to the state board.

Following the passage of the law, the state board can still review charter school appeals, but the board needs to find that the local district boards “abused their discretion” to overturn those denials.

The school district’s lawsuit argued the state board effectively ignored that law when making its decision about the Mayacamas school. And a Sacramento Superior Court judge recently affirmed that argument by issuing a final judgment July 28 in support of the Napa district’s petition to void the state board decision.

Since then, the Mayacamas school essentially has been in legal limbo.

The Napa Foundation for Options in Education — the organization behind the Mayacamas school — plans to appeal the court judgment, which would put a stay on the legal process that would void the state board’s September 2022 vote.

But lawyers with the Napa school district have been pushing for the court to disallow a stay and prevent the school from opening in the first place. If not, and the school ends up closing after it opens, they said it “would cause irreparable harm” to the Napa school district, its students and teachers, and to the families and students that are enrolled at Mayacamas, as well as the public by upsetting the status quo.

Rabinder Mangewala, assistant superintendent of business services with the Napa Valley Unified School District, said in a July 18 legal declaration in support of voiding that stay that having students unenroll at the beginning of the school year to attend Mayacamas would be highly disruptive to district operations.

He argued that if a stay is in effect through March 2024, the Napa school district would be required to conduct layoffs to mitigate the expected loss in enrollment.

Several have argued in support of a stay, including Napa County Superintendent of Schools Barbara Nemko.

Nemko argued in a declaration that the Napa Valley Unified School District’s 2023-24 budget situation is favorable. She said it already contemplates initial enrollment in Mayacamas of 160 students, “and that the operation of Mayacamas poses no meaningful harm or hardship to the District’s continued operations for the coming school year.”

Unless a court decision moves forward in the coming days, though, the Mayacamas school is set to open Aug. 16.

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