Forestville educators pushing for new charter middle school

A proposed new west county charter school would bring in seventh- and eighth-graders from Forestville Academy Charter School, as well as allow students to transfer from outside the district.|

Momentum is gaining behind a revived proposal for a new west Sonoma County charter middle school as part of a strategy to both boost local enrollment and retain students.

As planned, the school would pull seventh- and eighth-graders out of Forestville Academy Charter School, which would only teach students through sixth grade. It also would look to attract students from other districts, including in west Santa Rosa, officials said.

“It’s just a question of August ’16 or August ’17,” said Steven Kellner, superintendent of the West Sonoma County Union High School District, speaking about the opening date. The school likely would be located on the current Highway 116 campus of the Forestville Union School District.

The project is a partnership of the high school district and the Forestville district; the charter school would be under the high school district, an arrangement that could benefit both districts financially.

The high school district includes El Molino in Forestville and Analy in Sebastopol.

Declining enrollment is hitting the Forestville district’s revenue and limiting its ability to offer specialized electives. That, in turn, has worsened the enrollment situation, said Ron Abler, Forestville Union School District board president.

“We’re not going to be able to support that kind of program very much longer,” he said. “This is a way where we can combine our assets and draw from more than one district.”

As an example, Kellner said, under the arrangement, teachers of electives at El Molino High School also could teach those classes at the charter school.

Also, because it will be a charter school, students could transfer to it without needing to apply for interdistrict transfers. And with the middle school chartered under it, the high school district would qualify for more state funding.

Meanwhile, the Forestville district, which is funded largely by local property tax revenue, would retain that money but would have to divide it only among its elementary students.

A 2012 proposal for the charter - which at the time included the Guerneville school district as a partner - ended when the state wouldn’t provide the level of funding that backers said was needed.

A Sonoma County Office of Education study found that the arrangement currently being planned would boost the districts financially and increase academic offerings for students, county schools Superintendent Steve Herrington said.

“Anything that does that, we are in support of,” Herrington said, adding that the county office has offered to assist in the process of establishing the charter.

In another effort to strengthen elective offerings and reverse enrollment trends, the Forestville, West Sonoma County Union and Guerneville districts this year combined resources to hire a full-time music teacher who teaches at three schools.

Staff Writer Jeremy Hay blogs about education at You can reach him at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemo On Twitter @jeremyhay.

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