The Northern Humboldt Union High School District administration has recommended that their board deny a charter petition from the Samoa Beach Academy, a career and technical education (CTE) focused school that hopes to open this fall. In a document citing over a dozen logistical, fiscal and educational concerns, NoHum’s district staff deem the charter’s proposal a “subpar alternative to better CTE programs” available at other local schools.

The charter petition was submitted to NoHum’s administration in November by Catherine Scott, who formerly was superintendent of the Southern Humboldt Unified School District. The proposed institution would start by enrolling 150 students, but hope to eventually serve 400, and would offer three CTE pathways: building and construction trades, health and science medical technology, and business and finance. In their petition, SBA’s leaders claim there is a “strong community need” for workforce-ready high school graduates locally, and tout the natural and industrial resources Samoa would bring to their students’ education.

In January, Scott and her fellow petitioners presented plans for the charter during a special board meeting, and the public was invited to comment. Though some appeared in support of the program, most comments came from students and faculty concerned about what a new 400-student high school would mean for enrollment and the existing CTE programs offered at NoHum’s schools.

With a host of sub concerns, there are three primary reasons district administrators have suggested that their board rejects the Samoa Beach Academy. After scouring the 300-plus page petition, Northern Humboldt’s staff has concluded that SBA’s educational program is “unsound,” that the petitioners are “unlikely to successfully implement the program,” and that the charter would “substantially undermine” existing “superior” programs. These reasons are in accordance with California’s legal grounds to disapprove a charter.

Staff anticipate that the charter would rely too heavily on online classes. The school’s proposed mathematics curriculum is an online program, and the report states that the description for this class “reads more like a sales pitch for a product, rather than a well-thought-out description of how students will benefit from an online math program.”

The district also predicts that students interested in Advanced Placement courses will have to take them online, citing SBA’s plan to do that if the number of students who sign up for AP classes is too low to fill a class.

Reliance on online curriculum will seep into the CTE programs, too, staff worries, arguing that SBA’s wages won’t attract the few local teachers who are credentialed in CTE. The district compared the proposed salary of an SBA CTE teacher to the average NoHum CTE teacher, finding a disparity of $44,183. The SBA petition noted that while they intend to hire their own teachers, they would turn to an online program in the event staffing is difficult.

“It seems highly likely that many students will have at least two online courses each grading period, which, in a six period day, is 33% of such students’ week,” the staff report states.

Petitioners said in their proposal that CTE pathways will be supported by local partnerships, but staff is doubtful that will be possible in the medical realm. “Medical CTE is an area that local districts have explored exhaustively, but it is simply not possible to recruit qualified CTE teachers in this area, as people with expertise in this field have many more lucrative options,” they wrote.

In that vein, the district has apprehensions that SBA will work with “novel industry partners” at all, noting that several of the partners SBA listed in their proposal have already committed to supporting CTE elsewhere in the county.

“Humboldt County schools have been careful not to overuse or over-extend the ‘asks’ we make upon our industry partners, and the LEAs [local educational agencies] work together collaboratively on this effort,” staff explained in the report. “We believe that the burdens this proposal places on existing partners will exhaust the resources for all LEAs, particularly given the reliance placed upon donations from such partners, and will lead to fatigue on the part of all the community’s CTE partners. This would be to the collective community’s detriment.”

Staff is skeptical about SBA’s plans for equipment as well, citing the petition’s failure to specifically identify funding for CTE materials. In correspondence regarding this concern between the district and charter, SBA’s leaders said that local business partnerships would help supply CTE workshops. In their document, the district wrote that “reliance on others’ goodwill and donations to run a school is not a path likely to lead to a successful school or CTE program.”

Beyond the CTE curriculum, the administration believes that staffing and finances toward special education are lacking. For the first year, SBA has budgeted for one resource teacher, who will teach an estimated 28 students, assuming SBA’s student demographics are proportional to the district’s. However, the district noted that “in our experience, the hands-on nature of learning and the application of knowledge that is a component of a CTE program attracts a disproportionate number of special education students.” SBA doesn’t plan to hire any student aides.

SBA outlined procedures that conflict with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which protects students with disabilities. Staff fears those policies will “invite litigation in addition to failing to meet students’ needs,” which would ultimately impact the district as well as the charter.

Red flags about finances popped up all over the petition, according to the staff report. In addition to “non-competitive” compensation, staff says the proposed budget “does not account for all expenses,” and identified that “some numbers are drawn from unknown sources and do not add up.” In order to stay afloat with the budget they’ve proposed, SBA would need to attract 400 students by their fifth year in operation, but staff has doubts they’ll be able to, claiming the charter’s offers are “inferior” to existing CTE programs.

The NoHum board will vote whether to approve or deny the charter at a special meeting on March 4. If the board approves it, NoHum will be responsible for the charter in terms of ensuring its legal compliance with special education laws.