Sierra Academy postponed, superintendent search continues
June 17, 2013
Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning will not be opening next fall, marking another postponement for the charter high school.
The academy was unable to secure the funds necessary to open the school, the site for which is still undetermined, because the California Department of Education did not disburse funds in a timely fashion, said Interim President Arthur Fellows.
The school board applied for a start-up grant in October, was supposed to receive word in November and, if approved, receive funds in January, Fellows said.
Notice of grant approval was sent in January for $575,000 and school officials were told in March that money would be sent in four to six weeks.
“Although we felt we were at least three months behind, we felt with this (grant approval) we could forge ahead, albeit still cautiously with no funds in the bank.”
— Interim President Arthur Fellows
"Although we felt we were at least three months behind, we felt with this news we could forge ahead, albeit still cautiously with no funds in the bank," Fellows said during the Nevada Joint Union High School District board meeting Wednesday.
"We endeavored on and started looking for property, facilities, recruitment efforts in a minor way in anticipation of starting up. Come May, (we) still had not seen any money. We had the grant award notice with the state signature on it and efforts to put together the bank with the county, and we still saw nothing."
The school board decided to postpone the opening until next year, which was approved by the state.
"They would re-set their clock and give us money so we could actually spend a quality year putting together a quality program in a manner in which the money is intended," Fellows said.
The school currently has $60,000 in outstanding loans that Fellows said has to come from average daily attendance because there is an 18-month window of time transactions that must have taken place to be used for the grant.
Academy board member James Berardi said the loans were more like donations, since he gave hundreds toward the school and never signed any document indicating when the loan would be paid back.
"As far as I'm aware, there was no agreement signed by (the district) or the board, saying we'll take this money and promise to give it back at this time," Berardi said.
"It was almost a gift with the expectation that it would be paid off, but I don't believe anything was formally agreed on."
Berardi said the money came from people who believed in opening the school and were willing to take the risk of not being paid back.
During the meeting, Trustee Wayne Klauer voiced concern that the district, because it is sponsoring the academy, would be responsible to pay the loans back, which Fellows said is not the case.
"I'm worried they might incur more loans and at what interest rate and how exactly they are going to pay those back," Klauer said. "I don't want the high school to be responsible."
Fellows could not be reached for further comment after the meeting.
The school has been advertising for teachers, an administrator and office assistant with the intent to start interviews in July and develop curriculum and recruitment efforts the following winter, Fellows said.
After Fellows' presentation, Trustee Georgie Coulter asked what expeditionary learning is, as well as where the school is located.
"It is tough to acquire facilities and teachers and have the legitimate monikers without money," Fellows said.
During closed session, the board discussed the search for a new superintendent, a process which the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Office has facilitated.
After the meeting, Board President Katy Schwarz said the search has been going well, adding the applicant pool has been winnowed from 24 to 5 and the interview questions are still being formulated.
The interviews will take place June 18. The next district board meeting will be 6 p.m. Aug. 14 at Bear River High School at 11130 Magnolia Road in Grass Valley.
"It's been going really well and the county office has been really helpful," Schwarz said. "We are still deciding on the questions and still working on it."
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.