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EDITORIAL

Napa Valley Register Editorial: Mayacamas drama continues

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The opinion of the Napa Valley Register

Proponents of the Mayacamas Charter Middle School envisioned for downtown Napa have shown they will not take “no” for an answer. The charter was denied twice before the California State Board of Education overturned these vetoes, giving the project a long-awaited green light.

Now, the Napa Valley Unified School District is taking a page from the Mayacamas playbook, filing a lawsuit this week against the state board to block the charter’s approval. 

Our board feels it is unfortunate that this issue has come to litigation, as it will take time and taxpayer money we are not convinced the board has to share. (As of press time, the fate of the $200 million bond, Measure A1, remains a handful of votes away from passage. However, Measure A2, a companion measure which would serve American Canyon schools, has passed.) 

If the charter becomes a reality, Mayacamas would operate inside the building at 983 Napa St. that housed St. John the Baptist Catholic School before it closed in 2020. It had been slated to open this August with about 180 students and gradually raise enrollment to 336 by its fifth year. 

Not coincidentally, enrollment is at the heart of this. Most state funding for California schools is tied to those numbers, and the district has about 400 fewer students today than it did a year ago. That trend is expected to continue, a main reason for its opposition to the charter. 

Mayacamas supporters, meanwhile, have warned that rejecting such alternative schools would accelerate NVUSD’s years-long enrollment loss by pushing more parents to enroll their children in private schools or turn to homeschooling.

Our board understands why charter schools, including Mayacamas, exist. Parents and caregivers everywhere want the best education and opportunities for their children. They honestly believe NVUSD has failed them, and it is not a crime to want an alternative. 

But when thinking about a public good, like education, the needs of the many outweigh that of the few. The district has more than 16,000 students, disproportionately low-income, English-language learners and/or from families of color compared to the county’s overall demographics. They will be hurt by a charter.

To be clear, we believe the Mayacamas supporters when they say they will work for a diverse student body. Will the education be superior? Unknown at this point, but proponents ardently believe it will be.  

But that’s not the larger point. 

We believe NVUSD’s claims that Mayacamas will materially, and negatively, impact the would-be remaining students in regular public schools, and that’s not a price we feel should be paid. 

It is for this reason our board concluded that although it is unfortunate that NVUSD had to go a costly legal route to fight this, it has to do so for the future landscape of Napa County education. NVUSD has to continue this fight. 

In the suit, filed on Nov. 14 in Sacramento, the district claims the state Board of Education “exceeded its jurisdiction by improperly substituting its own judgment for that of the NVUSD and the County Board, in direct contradiction of clear legislative direction…”

The point of the recently enacted Assembly Bill 1505 was intended to give local boards and districts more power, it argues, and so the state board’s decision must be reversed. 

We make no claims on how this will play out in court, but one thing is certain: It is far from over. 

The editorial board researches, interviews stakeholders and discusses issues of importance to Napa County residents. Its written opinions are the institutional views of the Napa Valley Register and is not beholden to interest groups, public officials, or its own advertisers. Its larger goal is to provide clear-eyed analysis of these issues to help make our county and region a safe, equitable, peaceful, and just place to live and work.

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