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Charter school sues Santa Barbara County school districts over money

Two different school districts in Santa Barbara County, the Lompoc Unified School District and the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District, are being sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars by Olive Grove Charter Schools.

A lawsuit says the money is owed to the charter school by state law, but some people are hoping for those laws to change.

Teachers and district leaders in the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District are trying to stay hopeful in the midst of litigation and potential bankruptcy.

Olive Grove Charter Schools is asking the district for more than $400,000 for this school year.

“We’ve inquired of both Olive Grove and the California Department of Education and have not received the level of detail that we asked for, so it is our hope through the discovery process as we go to court, we’ll have access to those records to verify those attendance records and hopefully have something we believe will be a little more accurate,” explained Superintendent Scott Cory.

State laws regarding public schools having to pay for charter schools haven’t really been changed since the 90s. Laws for oversight and transparency of charter schools are almost non-existent.

Governor Gavin Newsom is among those looking to make changes. Just this month, he signed a law that makes charter schools subject to the same public records and conflict of interest laws as public schools.

“I think it’s a really good thing because there are some really good charter schools out there that do provide legitimate and healthy and good alternatives for students that are in our public school system. There are also some charters that are taking advantage of that system,” Cory said.

The Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District is hoping local leaders will step up to help their case because they say paying the money they owe the charter school will not only bankrupt them, but it could also force them to cut staff members.

“We could not make enough cuts and still run our programs if we’re required to pay the amount that Olive Grove and the California Department of Education is asking for us to pay. It would literally take us to the path of insolvency,” said Cory.

“We’re going to fight it and continue to fight it until we can’t anymore,” said Ashley Coelho, a Teacher at Santa Ynez Valley High School.

KSBY reached out to Olive Grove and the Lompoc Unified School District for comment, as well as lawmakers Hannah-Beth Jackson and Monique Limon to see if they might propose legislation to increase transparency for charter schools. They hadn’t responded as of Friday evening.

A court date for this lawsuit has not yet been set. The California Board of Education is expected to hear Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District’s appeal this Summer.

Melissa Newman

Melissa Newman

Melissa Newman is a multi-media journalist for KSBY News. You can send her story ideas at mnewman@ksby.com.
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