Ross Valley Charter collects positive budget progress report

After years of uproar, Ross Valley Charter received high praise this week from an oversight team retained by Marin education officials.

“Ross Valley Charter is really working on all the areas we asked them to work on,” Michelle Giacomini, manager of the budget crisis and management assistance team, told members of the Marin School Board on Tuesday.

“We are delighted with their progress,” she said.

The group was retained last June when the county council agreed to take over the supervision of the Fairfax charter school. It is the first charter school and county board of education oversight arrangement in the state.

The county stepped in after the Ross Valley School District denied RVC’s request to renew its charter under the district’s auspices. The district cited a range of concerns, including the threat of liability if the charter school became fiscally insolvent or unable to meet its debts.

That denial marked a turning point in the bitter and intense community battle between the district and the charter school that has continued for nearly a decade.

Tuesday’s progress report was the first since the county assumed oversight of the school, now located in the former St. Rita School Complex west of downtown Fairfax.

Giacomini said the Tax Crisis Team has worked extensively with Ross Valley Charter staff over the past semester to strengthen the school’s financial management and to monitor compliance systems for all reporting deadlines. The work included site inspections and financial health analysis, she said.

“Our financial risk analysis revealed that Ross Valley Charter had a tax insolvency risk of 11.5%,” Giacomini said. “It’s a very low fiscal risk.”

On the academic side, Carolynne Beno, an intervention specialist on the team, said she was pleased that the school’s teaching staff served their students well in English and math, according to recent test results.

She said the Ross Valley charter mostly equaled or exceeded test scores from the Ross Valley School District, Marin County, and students statewide.

Besides scoring lower in math for English language learners than the Ross Valley School District, the charter school “outperformed the county and the state” in terms of academics, Beno said.

“I would like to see better performance of English language learners in terms of mathematics,” she said.

Beno added that she is also working with the charter school’s special education team to help improve its operation and strengthen its participation in the local special education consortium.

Principal of Ross Valley Charter School, Page Hersey, said the school appreciated the help from the financial crisis team. She said she looked forward to getting back to the charter school’s top priorities that were in place before the pandemic and before the county took over oversight.

These are “full implementation of inquiry-based learning” and “emphasis on social-emotional learning,” Hersey said.

Marin County School Board Chair Patty Garbarino said she was pleased with the team’s presentation.

“I’m so glad it worked out so well,” Garbarino said.

The county board plans to continue the annual oversight arrangement with the budget crisis team as needed, said Terena Mares, deputy superintendent of the Marin County Office of Education.

The pursuit would be accomplished through the annual renewal of the memorandum of understanding established last year, Mares said.

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