It is likely that no one will get to attend Samoa Beach Academy. The career and technical education charter high school – designed by a group of local tradespeople and business owners and backed by Danco, which hoped to build and own the Samoa-based school facilities – has again earned a stamp of disapproval, this time by Humboldt County Superintendent of Schools Michael Davies-Hughes. 

Read the full staff report at this link. 

[UPDATE, FEB. 8: … and read Samoa Beach Academy’s response at this link.]

It’s been an unrelenting journey for SBA’s petitioners, who originally submitted their proposal to the Northern Humboldt Union High School District, which includes Samoa in its boundaries. The proposal outlined a school offering three CTE pathways – residential and commercial construction, patient care, and business management. After NoHum staff recommended disapproval of the charter, petitioners withdrew the proposal and resubmitted a second draft they hoped adequately addressed concerns raised by the district, but it was not so. NoHum staff again recommended denial of the charter, which the board affirmed in September. In October, SBA submitted an appeal to HCOE.

The Humboldt County Board of Education hosted a listening session for the proposed school in December, where several community members and parents voiced support for SBA. The board will vote on whether to approve the CTE high school at its Feb. 9 meeting, based on findings and recommendations completed by HCOE staff. The findings, which are published on HCOE’s website, recommends denial of the charter due to its unsound educational program and unviable budget. Also, the petition failed to provide enough signatures from meaningfully interested teachers, HCOE found. But perhaps what stands out most is the charter’s relationship with Danco, prompting budgetary and conflict-of-interest concerns from HCOE.

“The proposed facility’s costs are excessively high so as to raise concerns of misuse of public funds, and the proposed lease runs afoul of Government Code Section 1090,” the staff report reads. The proposed facilities, which would be built and owned by Danco, would cost SBA $300,000 in rent its first year in operation, increasing to $649,459 by year five. In addition to rent and utilities, the charter school would be responsible for real estate taxes, building insurance and maintenance.

“These costs are excessively high for this location and the increases year-to-year are quite unusual. For example, Northern United – Humboldt Charter School leases several facilities across Humboldt County. Their most expensive lease costs approximately $1.10 per square foot per year. That lease also is a triple net lease, and has an annual 3% rent increase built into the contract. By contrast, SBA will be paying $15.96 per square foot in rent alone in the first year, with costs increasing to $34.54 per square foot in year five,” the report reads. 

“Additionally, and importantly, legal counsel identified concerns regarding conflict-of-interest requirements that likely prevent use of this facility in its entirety.” 

The report notes that the owner of Danco, Dan Johnson, is not identified in the petition by name. Lead petitioner David Lonn later told HCOE that Johnson is the “local businessman with deep educational experience” mentioned as a consultant on the petition. 

“This relationship runs afoul of Government Code Section 1090, which has been interpreted to apply to both consultants and businesses in relationships such as this one,” staff wrote.

In other words, SBA may not enter into the proposed lease.

In addition to that, staff who completed the report have several concerns about SBA’s educational program. 

“The proposal for CTE does not appear to be meaningfully integrated into required coursework for graduation; the CTE proposed does not appear to be have been chosen with students’ needs in mind; and the program is not likely to be of educational benefit to students with academic, behavior, and/or social-emotional deficits, students who are English Learners, and students with disabilities,” the document summarizes.

The report specifies that SBA’s proposed curriculum places overly hefty expectations on teachers, who would need to integrate all three CTE pathways into each and every core course – an unrealistic and educationally impractical assumption, staff say.

On top of that, the vast three CTE pathways – which were chosen based on reviewing occupations by median earnings among Samoa residents – “is likely to lead to an unfocused program that students cannot complete,” the report claims, noting that after committing to one pathway in ninth grade, it would be nearly impossible for a student to change their mind later.

Other concerns include a support system unlikely to actually help students, especially English learners and students with disabilities. The proposal misses the mark entirely in terms of serving students with disabilities, who are hugely under-budgeted for, staff found.

What else? The actual cost of food services would be twice what SBA allotted. A supposed dual-enrollment program with College of the Redwoods and (what will be) Cal Poly Humboldt looks unrealistic. Plans to offer competitive sports – which would necessitate compliance with the California Interscholastic Federation – seem a lofty goal for this charter.

On top of all that, the program is not financially stable, staff claim, citing a number of concerns in addition to the conflict of interest with Danco.

“Petitioners will not be able to successfully implement the program set forth in the Petition because the budget is not viable due to a number of inaccurate assumptions and errors; the proposed facility runs afoul of laws governing appropriate expenditures and conflicts of interests; and Humboldt County has an identified deficit in credentialed CTE staff necessary to adequately staff SBA.”

Achieving both a first year enrollment of 150 and eventual enrollment of 300 – which the budget is dependent on – is unlikely considering local charter school early enrollment history, staff predict. Furthermore, a study funded by the petitioners found that locally, attracting that many students is “a challenging goal.” 

Budget for staffing is unrealistic, staff found, and doesn’t account for a secretary or Registrar, food service workers, paraprofessionals, or maintenance and custodial staff. On top of that, CTE teachers are sorely lacking county-wide, and HCOE staff doubt the charter is capable of attracting qualified CTE teachers. 

“These are often concerns with any new charter school. What makes SBA unique is the clear data that the qualified CTE staff they will need in order to implement their program are not available in Humboldt County,” staff say, listing examples of local recruitment challenges in all three CTE areas proposed by SBA. 

“Our county is facing a potential crisis in CTE credentialed teachers,” the report states. Qualified CTE teachers must have three years of industry experience to qualify for CTE credentialing programs, which aren’t offered at HSU (aside from an industrial technology methods course, which is not an SBA pathway). 

“Humboldt County has a number of CTE teachers who are close to retirement, but no pool of currently appropriately credentialed teachers. Coupled with the difficulties attracting out of county residents to Humboldt County, it does not appear possible to staff a new CTE Program in the County at this time. This is even more the case with a program like SBA, which intends to hire three separate CTE teachers.”

With all these findings in mind, Davies-Hughes has recommended denial of the Samoa Beach Academy. In his cover letter to the county board of education, though, Davies-Hughes praised the petitioners’ respectful communication and dedication to their cause. 

“It is my belief that this petition, though flawed, highlights and elevates the importance of CTE in Humboldt County. Excellent CTE programs already exist, and as an educational community we can still do more to ensure that all students have the opportunity to be prepared for futures of their choosing,” Davies-Hughes wrote.

“It is my sincere hope that should the Board of Education act to deny this charter petition, the petitioners and supporters of this petition would engage with schools currently offering CTE programs and apply their passions and skills to help strengthen and expand what is already in place.” 

The Board of Education will vote to approve or deny the charter on Feb. 9, and community members will have the opportunity to comment on the item. The agenda should be posted here prior to the meeting. 

If the County Board of Education denies the petition, SBA can submit an appeal to the State Board of Education. If approved, the SBE will designate chartering authority to either the Northern Humboldt Union High School District or HCOE.