Concerned citizens pack the school board meeting to protest Imagine charters expansion into the City of Hemet
Board proceedings began with a local citizen’s request; Riverside County Office of Education (RCOE) Board President Barbara Hale was asked to recuse herself from any decisions related to the expansion of Imagine Schools Incorporated, as she has taken $107,000.00 in campaign contributions from California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) in the last election cycle, creating a substantial conflict of interest in the charter approval process. While the request was summarily dismissed by Hale, it set the stage for a contentious meeting that ended with a frustrating 5-1 RCOE Board vote in favor of an expansion of the for-profit national charter chain.
Teachers and education support personnel from the southland cities of Hemet, San Jacinto, and Imperial, joined local leaders to educate and encourage RCOE to evaluate the overall impact of Imagine Charter School on the communities they purport to serve before approving any expansion.
Hemet Teachers Association President Jason Chrest, flanked by California Teacher Association Vice President David Goldberg, CTA board members Erika Jones and Joe Bartell, sounded the alarm over Imagine’s shady practices of promising to meet the specialized needs of parents and students of color, only to leave those parents disillusioned and disappointed; “Parents are never told the true story of what the for-profit model does to kids. They have consistently failed to hire and retain fully-credentialed teachers in their charter schools.”
Hemet Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Cristi Barret also came to share her concerns about the impact of the new for-profit on the Hemet community; “We have a moral and professional obligation to protect public education. We also have an obligation provide educational options that meet the needs of families and their children. Part of protecting public education is ensuring that ineffective charters that are misusing and funneling public dollars away from our students are not allowed to operate.”
CTA Board Member Joe Bartlett voiced support for the Hemet Unified School District that he attended K-12, and disagreed with the premise that Imagine School’s expansion into his former district was anything more than an economic one; “Hemet educators are outstanding communities, but they aren’t the same.”
Sayrs Morris, an Imperial Valley teacher who traveled over 175 miles to speak at the meeting, explained that Imagine Incorporated’s record in El Centro was a poor one. After five years, the charter school was denied an extension for its inability to correct ongoing problems. El Centro Elementary School District used data and analysis that indicated the Imagine had the district’s lowest test scores, while they spent significantly less per-pupil on the education of each student. At the same time, leasing requirements with the parent company turned Imagine’s Inc.’s initial 3.4 million dollar investment into 7.9 million dollars in rent repayment. Imagine did not go away quietly; they appealed the decision to the Imperial County School Board, and after being rejected again, made initial plans to appeal to the state before ultimately ending their presence in Imperial County.
While the approval of further expansion of Imagine Incorporated Charter Schools into Riverside County was deeply disappointing, the energy of the hundreds of community members in opposition to it was organized, educated on the issues, and ready for further accountability actions and oversight of this Virginia-based corporation.