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SJUSD shoots down proposed charter school in Citrus Heights; appeal planned

Sentinel staff report–
The San Juan Unified School District board on Tuesday voted unanimously to deny a request for a new charter school to open in Citrus Heights, but the group proposing the school is vowing to fight the decision.

“We plan to appeal the District’s decision to the Sacramento County Office of Education,” said Jillayne Antoon, spokeswoman for Rocklin Academy Family of Schools, which has proposed the new school. “We look forward to opening American River Collegiate Academy (next) fall and bringing Rocklin Academy’s proven academic program to the Citrus Heights community.”   

The proposal could receive a different outcome at the county level, where the board of education has a reputation of backing charter schools. The California Charter Schools Association has also played a significant financial role in successfully backing pro-charter candidates on the county board in recent elections.

Although San Juan Unified has approved at least three charter schools in the past, board members sided with a staff report that recommended denying Rocklin Academy’s request due to financial reasons and other “unknowns,” like a specific location not yet being finalized for the school.

“There are a lot of unknown costs that may occur in regards to rent/leasing of location not yet determined and there are unknown Special Education costs,” the report said.

Board members also expressed concerns about an “overly optimistic” attendance growth rate and the application appearing “rushed,” speculating that the reason was the threat of pending legislation earlier this year affecting charter schools. The academy responded to concerns during prior district meetings, noting that a 50 percent enrollment growth for the second year is projected in part due to planned addition of more grades.

The proposed Citrus Heights academy, referred to as the American River Collegiate Academy, or ARCA, would begin with only Kindergarten through 2nd grade. “Each subsequent year, more grade levels and classes will be added until we have a full slate of K-12 classes,” Antoon said in a prior news release announcing plans for the school.

Plans for the new charter school were publicly announced in a September news release from the Rocklin Academy Family of Schools, which was founded in 2000 and currently operates four campuses. A location has not been finalized, but the organization says negotiations on a site in Citrus Heights are currently taking place.

An academy spokeswoman confirmed to the school board that a “backup” location has been identified in Orangevale, just outside Citrus Heights, but still within San Juan district boundaries.

According to the academy’s news release, schools in the Rocklin Academy family are “designed with a college prep focus so that graduating students are enrolled in coursework required for entrance to the University of California, California State University of select private universities.”

The schools are tuition-free and open to all students, “though priority will be given to Citrus Heights residents when the new school opens,” according to the news release.

Citrus Heights Mayor Jeannie Bruins told The Sentinel she was disappointed in the school board’s decision to deny the charter application, but said she expects “a more favorable outcome” when the decision is appealed to the county.

“Citrus Heights needs more education choices for Citrus Heights families and I want the River City Collegiate Academy to be one of those choices,” Bruins said in an email on Saturday. “We need this charter school program.”

The mayor’s support for charter schools has also been expressed by other council members, like Steve Miller, who said while running for re-election in 2018 that he was “very disappointed” with the San Juan Unified School District and said schools in Citrus Heights are “falling apart.”

“Maybe a charter school is the way to go. Maybe our own school district,” Miller said during remarks at a candidate forum last August. “When we didn’t get the services from the county, we formed a city to provide for ourselves. And that may take some doing, but it’s always a possibility.”

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