Mediator Hired to End Parent 'War' at Shared Campus

Capo Unified will spend up to $20,000 to have a former superintendent try to broker peace between rival factions at two schools in Mission Viejo.

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.”

concerned parent January 13, 2012 at 12:43 AM
Wow... so much like people on both sides behaving like adults...
Tyra January 13, 2012 at 12:52 AM
I am in utter amazement and absolutely appalled at the childishness and immaturity of some of these comments. Petitions and comments such as "all charter schools are evil. they take money from the state and advertise. end of discussion" honestly just makes me sad. Do you talk this way in front of your children? What exactly is that teaching them? How to be mean?
concerned parent January 13, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Tyra's right... it's appalling. (And I don't have a dog in either fight--I just thought it was ridiculous the district had to spend $20,000 of money it doesn't have to hire a mediator.) I should have proofread my comment above... so much "for" people on both sides behaving like adults. I wish there was an edit button.
OC Mom January 13, 2012 at 01:11 AM
You don't remember screaming? How about speaking very loudly? Do you remember that the decibals were about twice the level as prior speakers? I believe his closing statement was that there would be consequences if BH closes. That could be a number of things but his body language and tone were very adversarial. This made him a memorable speaker that night.
shelly January 13, 2012 at 01:15 AM
OC mom, This is who you are calling a union activist. "“These cuts are absolutely devastating for me and my family,” said 14-year Capistrano teacher Carter Johnson, who teaches fifth grade at George White Elementary in Laguna Niguel. “We have four children who range from a two-year-old to a 15-year-old daughter approaching college age. Even if my wife goes back to work as a nurse, we’ll be forced to sell our home and move away from the community we love and where I love to teach.” From what Penny has posted it does not look as if Mr. Johnson is against OPA but for BH. He is advocating for the school he chose for his children as you are advocating for OPA. We all should have a voice and a choice. Some choose charters, some choose to home school, some choose private and some choose a neighborhood school or some choose a program at another school. Just because Mr. Johnson does not agree with you and he is a teacher which is a very respectable profession does not mean that he was screaming or that he is not an average parent. He may in fact be an extremely great parent but you do not know. Why judge him? He is allowed to support his choice as you are allowed to support yours. And the movie "Not as Good As You Think" is not a documentary but an opinion piece.
OC Mom January 13, 2012 at 01:38 AM
@ Shelly, I'm sure Mr. Johnson is a great parent since he is concerned about his children's education. That was not what I meant by my comment. What I meant is that at the board meeting he said that he and his wife are both "working parents" when he explained why getting his to younger sons to a school other than BH would be impossible without the district providing busing. He is in fact teaching at George White API score 915 vs. BH 866 API score. He could enroll his sons at the school he teaches at very easily. I understand that he prefers that they attend in their own neighborhood. I get that, but he is not without options and resources as he implied when he spoke to the school board. I also posted a previous link that showed he is on the CUEA Board. His name is listed on their website as a board member. When he was interviewed in the other link it was a CTA publication. Because of his involvement with the union and his assertation in the CTA article that his income is so critical to his family's survival, do you think that a school like OPA is a threat to his livelihood? Finally, I don't agree with the board spending $20,000 on a mediator. I'd rather they find a solution to the shared campus problem. If they could come up with a plan other than a BH takeover, perhaps that would diffuse the whole situation.
just a parent January 13, 2012 at 03:18 AM
@OC Mom What's your solution to the shared campus problem? In addition, what other better solution for campus space do you recommend that was not offered to OPA by the district? I agree that this was not handled perfectly but please explain what, in your opinion, should have been done differently to provide classroom space to OPA within CUSD?
Pam Sunderman January 13, 2012 at 05:32 AM
OC Mom. Mr. Johnson cares enough about his family and his profession to get involved and speak up at a public meeting. Your assumption that it is somehow a negative thing to be involved in the teachers association is somewhat offensive. Teachers and their association are advocates for students, parents and their profession. Allowing you and others to paint them as "thugs" or other negative connotations is inaccurate at best. Thank you to Mr. Johnson and any other person who has the courage and conviction to engage in respectful open discussions as we look for solutions to the issues faced by CUSD. He spoke as a parent Nd has every right to do so. He also has a right to speak as a member of the CUEA board if he is called upon to do so. Your little investigation of him and your "conclusions" about his motives are inappropriate in an anonymous post.
Capo Parent January 13, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Not important Please read my post slowly and carefully so you can comprehend what is actually being stated. I stated the idea of the petition was an idotic gesture, noting OPA could circulate a petition of its own to have BH closed and turned over to OPA. I didn't state the poster was an idiot.....you on the other hand...... :)
Capo Parent January 13, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Sometimes a moniker says it all, like "not important."
Capo Parent January 13, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Just a parent The sad truth is that BH (and several other schools) has been on the chopping block for a few years. That is why BH was basically neglected by CUSD until it assigned OPA there. Given its dire financial condition and declining enrollment (accross the district), the cold reality is that CUSD should close BH irresepective of whether or not OPA stays there. Closing a school in a neighborhood is never easy and always emotional (ask SVUSD & OUSD for starters), but it is a necessary step, especially when the school (BH) has a very low enrollment and is facing a further drop in enrollment and the school district (CUSD) is facing massive cuts and a declining enrollment, with the added burden of being a geographically challenged school district (look at how the redistricting effort is going).
Capo Parent January 13, 2012 at 02:51 PM
JG Fair enough, but are the facts laid out by OC Mom wrong?
Pam Sunderman January 13, 2012 at 04:06 PM
I wasn't at the board meeting. It seems that Penny didn't interpret Mr. Johnson's demeanor the same way. As for his CUEA involvement...since he was speaking as a parent it seems irrelevant. OC Mom seems to think that she has uncovered some nefarious plot...which has nothing to do with facts and everything to do with her insinuations and bias against teachers.
Penny Arévalo January 13, 2012 at 04:30 PM
When someone speaks loudly, I just figure they're too close to the microphone. That, and some people just project better. As far as emotions, I think this is a very emotional issue for all involved (as one can see from the comments).
Capo mom January 13, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Is it true that Alpay wanted Oxford to share the cost of the mediator?
Penny Arévalo January 13, 2012 at 04:43 PM
Not share, cover. He asked: "Why are we having to pay for this mediation?" Farley answered: "We think of this as a district expense." I also have written down, though it may not be an exact quote, We're ones who want to resolve the issue.
OC Mom January 13, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Just a Parent, I'm not on the CUSD School Board. I don't have all of the information about what the attendence numbers are at all of the schools in the district. They have that information and more. They got OPA into the shared campus situation and they should get them out of it. OPA shouldn't have to help pay for a mediator. OPA voluntarily reduced the number of students they had been approved for this year in order to accomodate CUSD. Splitting up our K-8 school to more than one campus isn't feasible.Just as the district wouldn't want to split up the Hankey or Avila campuses that are K-8 models. There are a lot of parent who are fans of K-8 vs. a large Middle School. I have friends who are very happy at Hankey and other friends who want to go to OPA next year and if they don't win the lottery they'll attend Hankey rather than AVMS. Again, there are many parents out there who are very happy with the fact that CUSD is now giving parents more choices(as Penny listed above) in their children's education. Finally, perhaps I misinterpreted the loudness of Mr. Johnson's speaking at the board meeting. Maybe he was just very passionate and failed to adjust his proximity to the microphone. I don't want there to be tension at OPA or BH. I'd like to see this resolved so that everyone is satisfied.
shelly January 13, 2012 at 07:48 PM
OC mom I think what people want to know is if there is not enough space at one school then what should the district do? Move an existing school? If so how should the people who are in the existing school react? Penny, is there any chance that the schools that were closed down in the Saddleback district could be utililized by OPA. Has there ever been a precident of districts sharing locations?
Capistrano resident January 13, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Are we just supposed to forget the union teachers walking out on our kids in April of 2010 for one week . There are consequences to all actions and charter school came at the right time for may Capistrano parents. How childish to say charter schools are evil. They spend ADA dollars more effectively (for the kids) and they don't have to deal with the union. "Hoping on board" is a choice. Also, take a look the district website at the California Prep Academy's Intent to Enroll and see how the language reads. An intent to enroll is not an enrollment form people, but rather an interest or support for the choice in alternative education. You see the pattern here with the charter schools, magnet schools like Carl Hankey's IB program, language immersion programs open for enrollment right now. Traditional education is not the only way. Residents of districts are looking for alternatives in this economy when $10K per student for private schooling is not an option and educational curriculum is being cut every year by the state of California. There is due respect to the teachers in the district as human beings and educators. However, charter schools do things "differently. " Many parents should have that option for their children.
Penny Arévalo January 13, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Shelly, I believe a charter school has to be located within the district where the charter was approved. If there is some provision in some law that says otherwise, I am not aware of it.
Capo mom January 13, 2012 at 10:55 PM
"Why are we having to pay for this mediation?" Measure H comes home to roost ..... . . Apparently trustee Alpay holds himself apart from that notion, even though OPA is part of CUSD and there are some students from his area attending OPA, it is not his problem. Maybe it is not in trustee Alpay's political interest to have this issue resolved. But parents like having a choice. Alternatively, trustee Hatton doesn't seem to be doing much for the area she represents, except to vote for a mediator to do what she ought to be doing herself.
Pam Sunderman January 15, 2012 at 02:58 AM
Penny, Didn't OPA apply for a charter in Saddleback before CUSD? I recall that Saddleback voted no on their charter. I think it was 2 years ago. I doubt they would be interested in supplying them with a facility...perhaps if they could they would let CUSD provide the funds and charge rent for their empty school. But this may not be legally feasible.
Capo Parent January 16, 2012 at 04:48 PM
For being an attorney, Alpay comes across many times as ignorant, uninformed and plain arrogant. His fake motion in March that Brick second and his comments about OPA paying the cost of the mediation are just some examples. I am curious how Alpay intended to force OPA to pay for mediation when mediation is a voluntary process. What a joke!
Penny Arévalo January 16, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Alpay had a funny line last week related to the infamous motion. Frustrated with Addonizio's and Palazzo's desire to disallow a loan that would keep the district afloat while it waits for deferred money to come in from the state (http://patch.com/A-qbpz), Hatton said, "Maybe we could just shut the schools down now?" To which Alpay replied, "Be careful about facetious motions."
Lisa Middleton January 26, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Re: a Mediator. We were promised a mediator from the beginning and I guess someone knew what we would be up against. The mediator is needed for the day to day operations of scheduling etc.. BHE is constantly having to stand up for our rights and needs of the students. Ongoing issues have included battles over shared space that has been taken over, schedules have been ignored, drop off and pick up times have been ignored, our recess times have been ignored and crucial classroom space is constantly being requested. Our principal has gone into battle for our students completely unarmed and alone against the calvary. The mediator was greatly needed and she has already been very helpful. We could debate whether the district or OPA should be paying for the mediator. The district offered the problem and OPA accepted it.
Lisa Middleton January 26, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Re: petition Anyone can make comments on this blog, even children. I heard that the petition was created by a teenager. Let's not be quick to judge and not group all parents together of BHE or OPA by a few comments from either side that might be less than mature.
Lisa Middleton January 26, 2012 at 09:28 PM
ST Math is used in many capo schools and is not unique to OPA
Lisa Middleton January 26, 2012 at 09:30 PM
Concerned parent....obviously Monica did not proofread her post. Not very nice to be insulting. She is very nice, professional and intelligent. It is very rare that a student would go from struggling to thriving in a few months.
concerned parent January 26, 2012 at 10:06 PM
What is insulting is a supposed professional denigrating the efforts of a student, publicly, simply because she's unhappy about OPA. I stated the truth about her post. Whether idue to sloppiness or lack of basic literacy skills, her post was, indeed, barely coherent. I'm glad she's not in a classroom actually teaching students. Nor should you, Lisa, question a parent who's pleased with the progress of her own child and who's found a solution to his struggles. Barcelona parents, whatever the issues of sharing space with Oxford, you make yourselves look bad when you react with such anger and hostility to its educational system. I don't have children at either place--but I think the one thing the district has gotten right in recent years is opening up more opportunities for alternatives in education (thanks in part, of course, to their being forced to do so by California voters.)
Lisa Middleton January 27, 2012 at 12:41 AM
Concerned parent....I just said that I agreed that it is rare. Honestly, I think that you are the one sounding hostile and angry. I don't understand where that is coming from.


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