Santa Barbara Unified School District has already paid Olive Grove Charter School more than half a million dollars this year and it is scheduled to pay the school just about $1.4 million in total for the 2018-19 school year. However, the School Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve two resolutions asking for a general waiver of the fees and responsibility as the Sponsoring Local Educational Agency (SLEA) or to have the responsibility reassigned to a district that is state funded and would therefore be reimbursed by the state for monies transferred to Olive Grove. The general waiver applications will be sent to the California Department of Education where they will decide whether or not S.B. Unified will be absolved from funding the charter.
Olive Grove has been around since the early 2000s but only this year is the district being asked to fund the school. Previously, the school was being independently run but in 2017 the California 3rd District Court of Appeals ruled that independent study charters, such as Olive Grove, could not operate in a district without that districts permission. In the spring of 2017, Olive Grove submitted petitions to the districts it was operating in, including Santa Barbara, asking to become a district sponsored charter. All districts denied the charter’s petition. Santa Barbara Unified staff cited “its inadequate educational program, the lack of transparent data, the incomplete educational planning, and weak student outcomes for Olive Grove’s current charter school,” and recommended the board deny the petition. Olive Grove appealed to the Santa Barbara County Board of Education where it was again denied, and then to the CA State Board of Education where it was approved in July 2018. By default, the districts that originally denied the petition become Olive Grove’s sponsoring local educational agencies and therefore take on the responsibility of partially funding the school in lieu of property taxes (ILPT).
Olive Grove is a school for students that are unable to work within the traditional school setting or are looking for alternatives. The school offers both textbook and online-based curriculum. The Santa Barbara location on the Mesa is currently serving 188 students. S.B. Unified has to pay Olive Grove for every student that it sees in its Santa Barbara location. However, the district has no access to verification that the kids that are attending the charter belong to the school district, said Meg Jette, assistant superintendent of business services. “They could take kids and put them in the Santa Barbara charter from Ventura,” said Jette. “Our property taxes are going to kids that don’t even live in the county.”
Through the approved resolutions, the board is requesting that the state either wave the district’s financial obligation or take it on via a Local Control Funding (LCF) district, said Jette. Santa Barbara Unified is a basic aid district, which means it meets its revenue limit through its property tax revenue and therefore receives limited state funds. LCF districts, on the other hand, receive funding from the state in addition to the property taxes in order to meet revenue limits. An LCF district is reimbursed by the state for the funds it transfers to a charter school, a basic aid district is not.
The district currently has three charters, Adelante, Peabody, and Santa Barbara Charter School, and funds them via in lieu of property taxes money. The difference here, said Jette, is that those charters were approved by the board. “When we approve our own charters, we take on the obligation,” said Jette. “[Olive Grove] doesn’t meet our qualifications and it’s hard for us to have to pay for that.”
While the 1.4 million is only a sliver of the 177 million annual budget for the district, the districted is predicted to deficit spend by 14 million for the 2018-19 school year, reported Jette at Tuesday nights meeting. “This Olive Grove 1.4 has become a significant deal to us,” said Superintendent Cary Matsuoka.