The idea behind a technology charter caught many Banta parents off guard, resulting in a capacity filled room at Thursday night’s special district board meeting. Among the concerns voiced by the parents was the possibility of losing students to the new school and additional costs that would be associated with the project.
After the board answered questions for a couple of hours, parents said they were relieved with the responses they received from district officials.
“We came in this not knowing if they made a decision,” parent Kelly Sordello said. “I’m happy we still get input.”
Parent Charles Sterni said the fear most parents were feeling was due to the lack of communication between the parents and the district.
Superintendent William Draa told the group of more than 40 parents that the project has been progressing quickly over the past few months. He said the previous plan for an agriculture charter with an emphasis on equestrian studies has since morphed into a technology charter.
The school is scheduled to be built on a 30-acre site at River Islands, which is owned by the Dell’Osso family. Project director Susan Dell’Osso, who is one of the owners of the popular pumpkin farm in Lathrop, explained that she and Banta officials have been talking about building a school for close to a decade.
Dell’Osso explained that she needs a verbal agreement from Banta district officials, favoring the charter project by Oct. 1 in order to make them eligible for $12 million from the state, and $7 million in federal funds. She said River Islands also plans to match the funds with an additional $12 million, as well as fund all of the furniture and equipment.
The school would be built for a kindergarten-through-fifth-grade building, and a sixth-through-eighth-grade building. Officials said eventually it would be expanded to include a high school.
Draa said if all goes well, they hope to open the charter school in September 2013.
When asked about the likelihood of losing Banta students to the new charter, Dell’Osso said they would market the school in Manteca, Stockton, Lodi and down to the Stanislaus County line.
School officials said there would likely be some Banta students who would probably want to go to the school, but they didn’t anticipate a big student loss. Board member Steve Weinzapfel said it would be up to the parents if they wanted to send them there.
Board member Frank Silva said they will negotiate a plan that will protect Banta. “We’re not going to rush this.”
One parent asked why they couldn’t expand the current Banta Elementary School?
Draa said they couldn’t handle the additional 6,000 to 8,000 students that River Islands produces once they build their planned 11,000 new homes.
Dell’Osso pointed out that Banta would be responsible for teaching the River Islands children anyway.
“Boundaries are starting to erode with school districts,” Draa said. “If you build it, they will come. We want it like the movie.”
Assistant Superintendent Albert Garibaldi said it all comes down to the details of the project. He said it could be beneficial or detrimental to Banta. He said hopefully they can all come to an agreement that would benefit both sides.
“We’re still in decision-making mode,” Dell’Osso said. “This is our first discussion with the board.”
“We understand where you are coming from,” Draa told the parents. “The timeline is moving like a fast locomotive.”
Sordello asked the board what type of governing board they anticipated creating for the new charter, and whether it would be salaried.
Officials said they were still working out the board details, but Dell’Osso said she anticipated a non-salaried, volunteer, five-member board with two members most likely coming from the Banta district.
Draa asked parents to post their questions on the district Website, so the board can address them at upcoming workshops. The next charter school workshop will be Sept. 6, a Tuesday, in the Banta Elementary School library at 7 p.m.
At the conclusion of the meeting, parents said they felt better hearing the board talk about keeping them updated.
“They still care about our best interests,” parent Kristen Correia said.