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The San Benito County Board of Education approved the establishment of San Benito County Polytechnic Academy charter high school in a 3-1 vote in a special meeting held Oct. 5 at the Hollister Veterans’ Memorial Building.
Over 200 members of the public were present, and noticeably divided—a sea of red Baler attire filled the 80 plus seats on the right side of the aisle with teachers, staff and administration from the San Benito High School District and Hollister High School; advocates and administration for the charter school sat across from them. The board’s decision came after a 90-minute public comment period with over 20 people sharing their opposition or support of the school.
The decision comes four months after a petition for the charter school was submitted to the office of education where San Benito High School District and Aromas-San Juan Unified School District superintendents voiced their opposition for the school.
Polytechnic Academy Board President Dr. Ariel Hurtado previously told BenitoLink the school will offer a tuition-free option for “disconnected and low-achieving students, giving them extra support early so that they can succeed academically and personally.”
A week prior to the Oct.5 meeting, both districts’ superintendents, board presidents, teachers union, sent a joint opposition letter to the board asking for the petition to be denied saying existing districts already offer the services the charter school is proposing and that it would divert funds from public schools.
San Benito High School District Director of Student Support Services Emmanuel Nelson said countywide charter schools are meant to provide services that are not generally provided by the county office of education
“The program proposed by the petitioners seems to serve the same populations and provide the same instructional services already provided by San Andreas High School: a continuation high school housed, staffed, provided by the San Benito County Office of Education, in partnership with the San Benito High School District,” he said.
While Jorge Lopez, executive director for San Benito County Polytechnic Academy, said the plan is to” serve kids that are disconnected,” others in favor of the school expressed a greater need for the school beyond a continuation program.
Robert Bernosky, who served on the Hollister School District and North County Joint Union School District boards, told the board he feels there is a demand for a charter high school in the county, not only to allow the community the choice of a non-traditional high school, but to also relieve Hollister High School from its student over capacity. The high school has an enrollment of over 3,500 students.
“While a high school has a primary responsibility to meet that demand, unfortunately the legislature places handcuffs on traditional schools that it does not place on charters, so the charters can provide what traditional schools cannot,” he said. “[Hollister High School] has a capacity problem; we’ve known that for decades. We don’t need one new high school; we need two high schools.”
Other concerns raised about the charter school were the petition’s lack of detail on the school’s location, whether it will meet its specialized staffing needs, how it will meet the needs of students that qualify for specialized programs such as special education, English language learners, electives, mental health programs and the financial impact on the existing programs and jobs at Hollister High School and Anzar High School.
San Benito High School District Superintendent Shawn Tennenbaum said the “lives of the teachers, staff, students and our community” will be financially impacted with the approval of the charter because the loss of revenue for the district would also mean a loss of services, programs, jobs and teachers.
“Because San Benito High School is a unique district, we have one high school, we will not be able to absorb a shift in this magnitude regarding the fiscal impact,” Tennenbaum said. “We cannot spread the impacts among multiple schools. We are a single school district, thus they’ll be more acute.”
Following the public statements and a 10-minute break, the board reconvened with comments and questions from trustees Reb Monaco and Rodney Bianchi.
“I fail to really see what this high school is providing that is not already provided,” Monaco said, and expressed concern over the charter’s petition being vague in addressing the overall operation of the high school.
“I’ve reached out to people and I really wanted a negative impact on what their opinion was on this charter school and I tell you, I didn’t find it,” Bianchi said. “All I can go by right now is what is in this book, and what their proposal is, [it] is pretty impressive.”
Board President Drew McAlister recused himself from the vote at the start of the meeting “to avoid any appearance of conflict or impropriety,” noting his employer, Tarkett, has an existing contract with San Benito High School District and that he earns commission from its contracts.
Reb Monaco was the lone no vote.
BenitoLink reached out to Tennenbaum for comment following the approval but has not received a response.
Hurtado told BenitoLink following the approval that he was aware of the challenges that are faced by parents and educators as he went through the educational system.
“My vision is for students to have the choice to pick their path in their educational endeavors and have a positive impact on our community,” he said. “It is my dream that these students will continue onto careers in the fields of construction trades, medicine, and agriculture. Our work here has begun, and I pray that we can come together as a community to support our greatest asset, our children.”
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