One Santa Barbara County school district says keeping a local charter school open could cause them to go bankrupt.
California’s Department of Education recently decided the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District has to help fund Olive Grove Charter School, a public school with six different locations.
Olive Grove Charter Schools have been in Santa Barbara County since 2000, originally chartered by the Los Olivos School District. In 2014, Los Olivos decided it no longer wanted to oversee the schools.
“The only district willing to speak with us was New Cuyama so we did get authorized with the state board and New Cuyama paid us in-lieu funds at that point,” explained Laura Mudge, Executive Director of Olive Grover Charter School.
Then the laws changed, and they were back at the drawing board.
“So the California Department of Education was hoping everyone would be able to get to an agreement, especially since Olive Grove had been authorized and in the county since 2000. It didn’t go that way, so we went back to the districts, back to the county and back to the state and then got authorized,” Mudge said.
Now, the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District is stuck footing the bill – one that’s so high, they say it could lead to bankruptcy.
“We received notification from the Department of Education in December that we’re going to owe $696,000 to help fund Olive Grove Charter. That was just based off the beginning of the year attendance. If you listen to projections coming from the executive director of Olive Grove, that number will be closer to $1-1.2 million come the end of this school year,” said Scott Corey, superintendent of the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District.
Corey says the high school district is part of only 10 percent of districts in the state that are basic aid districts when it comes to charter schools.
“So in that case, property taxes go to the county and then come back to us for student allocation. Then for non-basic aid districts, they’re called ‘local control funding formula districts,’ there’s a dollar-for-dollar backfill. So as basic aid, we don’t receive that dollar-for-dollar backfill funding and that’s why we’re in a unique spot,” Corey explained.
Olive Grove says the school district should have known this was coming.
“I’m not sure why it’s coming as a surprise to them. Both years we (petitioned), we provided them with budgets. Both years they knew they were basic aid,” Mudge said.
The high school district is already in a budget deficit so they say this added expense could have major impacts in the classroom and they could have to let go of some staff.
“We can chip away with some things and save some money in electricity or supplies and do some different things there but ultimately, when you have that much of your budget tied up in staffing and you have that kind of dollar hit coming to your budget, the end result is staffing. So whether it’s support staff, classroom teachers, administration, there needs to be a significant reduction where the significant spending exists,” Corey said.
Corey says he’s hoping for legislation to change in order for districts like the one in Santa Ynez to continue to grow as opposed to making cuts.
Santa Ynez Valley parent Elisha Gulserian says she’d like to see more parents get involved in the issue.
“Parents need to go to meetings if they have any and if they don’t get involved and don’t give a voice, they shouldn’t complain in what the outcome is,” she said.
Olive Grove Charter currently has more than 750 students enrolled in grades K-12. They will have to reapply for their charter from the state in 2024.