NHUHSD: Samoa Beach Academy plan is ‘unsound’ and ‘unlikely to succeed’

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

SAMOA – Northern Humboldt Union High School District administrators and legal staff are recommending that district’s governing board deny a petition to start a new charter school called the Samoa Beach Academy.

“The district staff and legal team recommend denial of the SBA [Samoa Beach Academy] Charter Petition II on the grounds that the proposed charter school (1) presents an unsound educational program for both Career Technical Education (“CTE”) and special education students; and (2) is demonstrably unlikely to succeed for budgetary and other reasons,” states a review of the petition posted on the district’s website.

The NHUHSD Governing Board may vote on the matter when its meets on Tuesday, Sept. 14 at 6 p.m. on Zoom. The meeting ID will be available on the district’s website at nohum.org prior to the meeting.

The school, which is being proposed by a group of educators and community members, would focus on training high school students in building trades, medical jobs and business management. It would be located in a new building that would be constructed in the town of Samoa and have an enrollment of no more than 300 students, according to proponents, who want the school up and running by fall of 2023.

A message seeking comment was sent to the Samoa Beach Academy through its website last week but the Union did not receive a response.

Samoa Beach Academy submitted a charter proposal earlier this year, but withdrew it after district staff raised a number of concerns about the school’s proposed finances and curriculum. There were also concerns about the school’s ability to serve students with disabilities.

The district has some of the same concerns with the new petition.

The review states that the school would rely on too much online learning and would have trouble recruiting qualified teachers. The review also states that the proposed charter demonstrates  the academy’s lack of understanding about special education classes and requirements.

“The dangerous combination of misapprehending special education and not providing appropriate services, invites expensive litigation,” states the petition review. “Failures to serve special education students come with steep fiscal consequences, as each due process case in which the [school district] does not prevail entirely requires the [school district]  to pay for the other party’s attorneys’ fees, in addition to the [school district’s] own attorneys’ fees.”

According to the district’s review of the petition, Samoa Beach Academy has budgeted for one special education teacher/coordinator for an estimated 15.2 percent of students with disabilities.

“SBA has not accounted for the numerous other related services that may be necessary for students with disabilities, such as special education teachers credentialed to serve students with whose disabilities require them to spend more than 50% of their day in special day classes; behavioral consultants; physical therapists; school nurses; services for students with low incidence disabilities; adaptive physical education; transportation; educationally related intensive counseling services; to name some related services that all districts typically provide,” states the petition review.

The review also says that the proposed academy will likely need more special ed teachers than it has budgeted for.

“By SBA’s calculations, they will have a low special education population of 15.2%, far below the county average. Indeed, in Petition I, SBA predicted that 19.5% of its population would be students with disabilities. If the special education caseload calculation is based on an unrealistic 15.2%, the expected number of students to be served in year one is 22-23, not 27 as stated,” states the petition review. “If the special education caseload calculation is based on 19.5%, which is more realistic , the expected number of students to be served in year one is 29-30, which means that SBA would need to hire more than one Special Education Teacher in year one in order to comply with relevant state and federal law. SBA has no budget for this, so the result would be a significantly negative year one cash balance, which would be compounded annually.”

Another problem cited in the review is the high cost of leasing a school building.

According to the academy’s proposal, The Danco Group, the owner of Samoa, would build an 18,800-square foot school in Samoa and lease it to Samoa Beach Academy. Lease payments would be $300,000 a year for the first year, then climb each year, reaching $649,459 in the fifth year.

“Given the increase in facilities costs budgeted from $321,600 to $629,220 over five years, and the margins that SBA will be operating under based on their own assumptions, SBA will really need to hit its Average Daily Attendance (“ADA”) growth to 300 students by the 2027-2028 school year. However, local history indicates that SBA will not meet this target,” the review states.

“By example, Six Rivers Charter High School, a very successful charter school, has an enrollment of slightly above 100 students. They opened with approximately 35 students in 2005 and took three years to reach their goal of 25 students per grade level. Hard work and building on their reputation allowed them to reach and maintain their enrollment goals,” the review states.  “Also locally, Northcoast Preparatory Academy which was founded in 2000, has developed a national reputation and added a middle school program. Their annual high school enrollment is just over 100 students. Northern United - Humboldt Charter High School’s typical enrollment is 150 students county-wide though currently it stands at 90 students. Conversations with administration and faculty at charter schools across the county have revealed stories of fighting to make it in the early years and then working hard to keep their enrollment where they need or want it to be.”

The petitioners for the charter school include Catherine Scott, an adjunct professor at National University;  Patti Campbell, owner of Mad River Lumber; David Lonn, former executive director of NHUHSD and former Mack High principal; Julianne Eagle, vice president of marketing for The Danco Group; Troy R. Nicolini, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Eureka; and Charles Petrusha, president and CEO of Advanced Security Systems.


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