The conflict between parents at two schools sharing a Mission Viejo campus has gotten so bad that a professional mediator is being brought in.
On Monday, the Capistrano Unified school board voted 4-2, with Trustees Ellen Addonizio and Sue Palazzo opposed and Jack Brick absent, to pay a former Orange County superintendent $125 an hour -- up to $20,000 -- to try to bring the “warring” factions together.
“We have collectively made, not on purpose, a volatile situation,” said Trustee Lynn Hatton.
The trouble dates back to March, when school board trustees , and decided it would in Mission Viejo starting in September.
About to other local schools. Parents who remained have complained to the district that .
Now, Oxford wants to expand its student population, which Barcelona parents feel threatens their school’s very existence.
Superintendent Joseph Farley said that district staff and trustees have tried to bring the two sides together to no avail.
"We seem to be having a turf war," Addonizio said. She voted against the motion because she believes staff should be able to handle the conflict.
But Farley disagreed.
We think we’ve gotten to the point where they need someone not related to the two schools to go in there.
– Superintendent Joseph Farley
“We think we’ve gotten to the point where they need someone not related to the two schools to go in there,” he said. The district has tapped Sheri Loewenstein, former superintendent of Cypress and Westminster school districts, for the job.
Earlier in the meeting, the school board held a public hearing to gauge the community’s support of .
The board is scheduled to take up the matter at its next meeting, Jan. 25.
Supporters of both schools filled the chambers beyond capacity, as the public hearing seemingly became a competition to see which side could cheer louder after supporters finished their remarks to the board.
Oxford has based its request for more students on the 1,600 or so families that have signed a form called an ”intent to enroll.”
But Barcelona Hills parents questioned the validity of those forms and said Oxford is operating more like a business and less like a school.
“OPA is a business selling an educational product,” said Barcelona parent Debbie Lackie. “What businesses do is advertise.”
Lackie said most of the families who signed letters of intent to enroll have no actual intention of sending their children to Oxford. The “padded number” is then used to persuade trustees to vote for the expansion.
“It also makes parents think, 'If I don’t hop on this bandwagon, I’m going to miss out,' ” she said.
Lackie and other Barcelona parents pointed out that several families have already pulled their children out of the young charter school.
“How stable is OPA?” asked Barcelona parent Patrick Mallon. “They have replaced the headmaster, lost two professors, lost an office manager. Six families removed their children because they were being taught by teachers’ assistants.”
Oxford Executive Director Sue Roche countered that all schools experience some transience as parents try to determine the best educational fit for their children.
“We all want the best for children,” Roche said. “We aren’t these terrible people who come in and take over a campus. We have never said, ever, that our school is better than any other school. Just different.”
Roche said she just wants to be able to serve all the students who want to attend Oxford.
For their part, parents at Oxford told trustees how thrilled they were with their new school and how they too would like it to be available to more students.
“It is a fantastic program,” said Ryan Belkin. “We need to look at expanding the program to accommodate enrollment.”
The school board does not have to choose Barcelona Hills as Oxford’s future site, said Oxford parent Frank Camilleri, who was previously a Barcelona Hills parent.
“Now we’re here at the next chapter, and we’re requiring more space,” he said. “Grant Oxford our facility. It doesn’t matter what facility. … We do deserve a facility of our own.”