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June 19, 2021

Updated: MACSA relinquishes school charter

Weeks after school trustees voted to revoke the charter of
Gilroy’s only charter school, administrators said they would save
trustees the trouble and relinquish it themselves.
Weeks after school trustees voted to revoke the charter of Gilroy’s only charter school, administrators said they would save trustees the trouble and relinquish it themselves.

Gilroy Unified School District trustees voted last month to begin the revocation process of El Portal Leadership Academy’s charter because the school’s administrators failed to submit balanced budgets, failed to meet enrollment commitments, mismanaged the school’s money and possibly violated several laws. A district investigation conducted earlier this year revealed chronically poor academic performance and the misappropriation of about $140,000 of the school’s teachers’ retirement accounts. At a board meeting Thursday, administrators of the Mexican American Community Services Agency, which ran the school, said they would not oppose trustees.

“It is with a heavy heart that MACSA will not be countering the notification of revocation,” wrote MACSA Chief Executive Officer Olivia Soza-Mendiola in a letter to schools Superintendent Deborah Flores. “MACSA is electing to relinquish the El Portal Charter Petition.”

Soza-Mendiola refused to comment following Thursday night’s public hearing.

“I think you’ve made the right decision,” Flores said to El Portal administrators. “This is like a grieving process and we’re sorry about that. But the program was not serving students well in the academic arena.”

Thursday’s public hearing was brief, lasting less than an hour, with half a dozen students and teachers joining the school’s administrators in the audience. This stood in stark contrast to two earlier meetings on the subject, which were crowded and ran for hours as students and teachers took their turn at the microphone, telling stories of success at El Portal and pleading that trustees not close their school.

Flores and trustees began mapping out a course of action Thursday to accommodate the 130 El Portal students who will be integrated into district schools in the fall. The plan included meeting with parents, assessing the academic capabilities of the students and placing them in one of the four district high schools.

El Portal Principal Graciela Valladares said it was her goal to make her students’ transition to district schools a positive one.

“I want to be a part of the transition,” she said. “I want to help these students. I know my students.”

Valladares and other school staff listed several concerns their students expressed, including transportation, safety and adequate counseling.

“I suggest you take a serious look at having someone look at kids closely who may be on suicide watch,” El Portal teacher Doug Reynolds told trustees.

Some El Portal students don’t feel safe getting to or attending other district schools, he said.

Flores assured El Portal staff that the students would be closely monitored during and after the transition.

“If a students doesn’t feel safe at (Gilroy High School), we’re going to facilitate them going to another high school,” Flores said. “There’s not a question about that. Safety comes first.”

She said she was concerned that any student might be so upset as to consider suicide and advocated for designating a staff member at each district high school to get to know each El Portal student by name.

Flores and trustees said they welcomed future collaboration and input from MACSA.

Unlike previous meetings centered around the charter school, trustees had little to say. However, trustees took pains to commend MACSA for their success in running other programs serving youth.

“I would like to acknowledge the leadership you have shown in this very difficult time,” trustee Mark Good said.

The school board is expected to accept an official resolution passed by MACSA’s board relinquishing the charter at a June 18 meeting.

However, MACSA’s troubles may not be over. The organization also had a debt of $250,000 owed to teachers at its San Jose charter school, Academia Calmecac, earlier this year and sources revealed that the organization owes a comparable amount to its non-school employees.

An item titled ‘Authorization to Issue Notice of Remedy to MACSA Academia Calmecac Charter School’ appeared on a recent East Side Union High School District board meeting agenda. However, administrators from that school district did not return phone calls by press time to explain what the item entailed or whether MACSA had been making payments on its employees’ delinquent retirement accounts.

The Santa Clara County Office of Education has also brought in the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team to conduct an investigation of MACSA’s two charter schools. Representatives from the team and the County Office of Education met with both schools and expect to have a draft as soon as next month, said Larry Slonaker, spokesman for the County Office of Education. The District Attorney is waiting for the Office of Education’s report before making a decision about prosecution.

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