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School of Hard Knocks: Advocates for the yet-to-be-approved Lighthouse Charter School plan to use Santa Cruz's other famous oceanside attraction as their logo. However, their plan to take over the campus at Natural Bridges is running into some serious roadblocks.


Charter This

With Natural Bridges Elementary School set to close its doors forever on June 11, will a charter school open at the soon-to-be defunct campus? And if so, which charter school will it be?

Apparently, Pacific Collegiate, a charter high school that's been operating out of the First Congregational Church on High Street for the past five years, hopes to occupy the site. Meanwhile, advocates for a yet-to-be-approved elementary charter school, Lighthouse Charter School, are polishing up their mission statement in the hopes the district will also give them the thumbs up.

Santa Cruz City Schools District Supe Alan Pagano says the city and Pacific Collegiate are "currently in negotiations" for the Natural Bridges site, a deal that would allow the school district "to meet its Prop. 39 obligations to Pacific Collegiate's facility request," while "reaping some revenue" from PC's 160 out-of-district students.

But that hasn't deterred Lighthouse Charter School spokesperson Ward Alksne.

"We're hoping to get blended in, since it's a big campus," says Alksne, who is nothing if not optimistic about the feedback he received from the Santa Cruz City Schools District last month.

"The board was very generous with its feedback, very open-minded and receptive with their legitimate concerns, " says Alksne, noting however that "fear that Lighthouse Charter School would drain students from nearby schools is not a reason the board can deny our application."

So, just what would a valid reason be?

Santa Cruz City Schools District board member Cece Pinheiro says the No. 1 criterion a charter school has to meet is to prove it provides a service the school district otherwise does not.

Lighthouse advocates say students would use a science-centric Baldridge model, but Pinheiro says that argument "doesn't do it," since the best aspects of the Baldridge model, which helps students set their own goals and analyze their own performance, "are already being used in many classrooms in Santa Cruz."

Asked about Pacific Collegiate, which failed to get the city school district's approval, only to successfully argue its case before the County Board of Education, Pinheiro refers to blues guitar player and Pacific Collegiate student Kyle Hanes.

"The city didn't have Hanes' example when it was reviewing Pacific Collegiate's petition, but once it was established, we could see Pacific Collegiate did fulfill the college-prep criteria," she says.

Meanwhile, Supe Pagano stresses that charter schools should be "part of the educational portfolio," but only if they meet needs not served by traditional education programs.

Citing Delta High School as an example of a successful charter, Pagano says, "It's important to try and acknowledge the motivation for, and see if there's any justification for, a charter school in a particular district."

Which suggests that the sparks will be flying May 12, when the district votes on Lighthouse.

Charter That

Here in the Cruz, residents have come to expect our City Council to assume a cutting-edge role--at least when it comes to matters of national and international importance. Hell, they've already given away medical marijuana on City Hall's steps, demanded an investigation into whether Bush should be impeached and vociferously condemned the war on Iraq.

Now members of the Santa Cruz Bill of Rights Defense Committee are wondering whether the council is hiding behind the city charter in an effort to dodge passing a resolution with some teeth in it (as Palo Alto and Arcata have already done) in opposition to the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act.

"We presented a resolution a long time ago, but the council refused to put it on the agenda," says SCBORDCer Lyse McGilvery, acknowledging that the committee's original presentation style may "put the council off," but noting that Councilmember Ed Porter "has now agreed to bring an item that responds to the committee's request."

Turns out Porter has drafted a policy statement, which City Attorney John Barisone has modified, to clarify that "should any conflict arise between legislation including the Patriot Act, Homeland Security Act, or Executive Order, and the U.S. Constitution, The Bill of Rights or the Constitution of the State of California, the latter three documents shall hold authority and take precedence when making decisions about what action should be taken when the constitutional rights of individuals are in question."

Meanwhile, SCBORDCer Steve Kudlak fears the council may be prevented from passing a stronger resolution, "because Santa Cruz has a strong city manager form of government, compared to Palo Alto, which has a strong city council form of government, and Arcata, which is so small, it can barrel ahead and do whatever it wants."

Councilmember Mike Rotkin says SCBORDC's request was for the council to direct staff to ignore a law that hasn't yet been shown to be unconstitutional, at least not in a court of law."

"It's not that we don't bend rules, but this time we're facing pretty high stakes," says Rotkin, noting that it's not only a misdemeanor to violate the city charter (which he notes is way stricter than those of cities such as Palo Alto, where SCBORDC got its resolution language from), but councilmembers could also lose their seats that way.

That said, Kudlak, who describes himself as "a bright nonlawyer, figures that "a lawyer might have some tips for getting around such problems. Luckily, the city attorney has a different relationship, so he can file amicus briefs supporting our position against the Patriot Act. He has already filed an amicus brief involving the medical marijuana issue. So to me that seems to be the area we can work. I hate to sound like a gentler Marine Corps instructor, but I think "adapt and overcome" applies here."

Doomsday Scenarios

Speaking of losing your seat, the House of Reps has approved legislation to ensure Congress can continue its work, even if a terrorist attack wipes out large numbers of legislators. Known as HR 2844, or the Continuity in Representation Act, the legislation would require states to hold special elections within 45 days after the house speaker certifies that at least 100 of the chamber's 435 members have been killed. (Some lawmakers believe the Capitol was the intended target of hijackers aboard the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001, and fear the House or Senate could be left quorumless, unable to conduct business and thus without legitimacy.)

Asked why Congressmember Sam Farr voted against the act, his press secretary, Jessica Schafer, says registrars in Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties "were aghast at the idea of being forced to hold an election in 45 days. All three said they wouldn't be able to guarantee that such an election was legitimate. In addition, quickie elections like the ones called for in the continuity bill would leave significant portions of the population disenfranchised; for example, military personnel stationed overseas. So, Sam's feeling was that this bill was not the appropriate answer to a crisis situation and that he could not in good conscience vote for something that flaunts the importance of every voter's ability to participate in a legitimate election."

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From the May 5-12, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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