Charting the Unknown

Bob Noël Announces Charter School Funding

by Ethan Stewart

Bob-Noel-File.jpgA month after winning reelection to the
Santa Barbara School Board, Bob Noël took the first step toward
delivering on his main campaign promise at Tuesday’s board
meeting — and it turned out the reality of his campaign was far
from what the other boardmembers had expected. Completely
surprising his collegues, Noël proudly announced he had recently
received some $405,000 in startup grant money from the state to
pursue his goal of opening a charter school for grades 7-12 in the
Santa Barbara School District. But the year ahead promises more
than a few challenges if Noël is to realize his dream.

He first has to convince an already cash-strapped district to
sign off on the idea, and then must open the doors of his American
Charter School before September 30, 2007, in order to receive the
seed money — all the while navigating a board with which he has had
more than his fair share of conflict. The often controversial Noël
ran a campaign this fall based upon three initiatives to create
schools-within-a-school that would reach up to 500 students
currently “falling though the cracks” of the district. These
programs were a Safety and Emergency Preparedness Academy (which
would resemble the recently terminated Junior ROTC program), a
four-year Construction Trades Institute, and a pre-AP program for
B-average students.

Unbeknownst to his fellow boardmembers, Noël considered a
charter school as one possible way to accommodate these programs.
Back in July, he and his fellow American Charter visionaries — who
include education guru Marilyn Gevirtz, UCSB professor James Block,
and former Santa Barbara School Boardmember Raphael
Franco — applied for the state money in what Noël recently
characterized as a “long-shot effort” to get startup funding; much
to his surprise, the money came through last week. The pitch for
the American Charter School was one of 45 proposals that received
funding out of more than 240 applications statewide.

Although the charter application probably won’t officially come
before the board until early next year, boardmembers and
Superintendent Brian Sarvis have already expressed their
reservations about the idea. Perturbed that Noël hadn’t discussed
the charter school idea with the board earlier, trustee Nancy
Harter commented that, even though the proposal has “potential,”
she thought Noël had crossed an “ethical line” in not telling the
board that he and his constituents were applying for the money. “I
think the way he went about it really caught boardmembers
off-guard, and he probably didn’t build the best foundation for its
success by doing that,” explained Harter. For his part, Sarvis said
the board would be “more than happy to study the idea,” but that he
hoped he could set a date for a comprehensive discussion about the
proposal before the official application was filed. He felt that
the rest of the board might have “concerns.”

Noël admitted it will be an uphill climb to have the school in
place by next fall, but as he put it, “I think it is going to be
very hard to say no to this thing once all the details are worked
out, because it is going to reach so many students currently in
trouble and pulling down schools’ APIs [Academic Performance
Index].” If the charter petition fails at the board level, Noël and
his supporters have the opportunity to petition the County Board of
Education for approval.

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