Heritage Charter School

People walk towards the entrance of Heritage Community Charter School on Thursday, May 31, 2012 in Caldwell. The school, which opened in Caldwell last fall, is under scrutiny by state regulators.

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© 2012 Idaho Press-Tribune

CALDWELL — Documents released Monday by the Idaho Public Charter School Commission reveal conflict during the past school year among parents, staff and the board of Heritage Community Charter School in Caldwell.

Last week the commission put the school on notice to fix a list of problems or face sanctions, including possible closure.

The documents, provided to the Idaho Press-Tribune Monday as part of a public records request, include a grievance letter filed in late November by three school founders and former board members against then-board chairman Lon McRae.

The grievance alleged that McRae repeatedly violated the Idaho School Board Association’s Code of Ethics, Idaho’s Open Meeting Law and Heritage’s own policies and procedures.

The school board investigated the allegations and found they had no validity.

In a telephone interview Monday, McRae said that after the grievance was received, he recused himself from the board as the other members investigated the allegations.

He offered to resign from the board if they felt that was justified.

“It was a difficult situation, and they did everything they could to make sure everybody who had a grievance was heard,” McRae said.

Among more than a dozen specific complaints, the grievance stated that McRae held board meetings without a school administrator present, required school employees to seek his personal approval for decisions, bypassed the school principal to ask staff questions about operations and finances, and shared confidential information after attending closed executive meetings.

The grievance called for McRae’s resignation or removal from the board, arguing that his “continued disregard for the interest of the school” undermined staff morale and could lead to sanctions by the state, including revocation of the school’s charter.

During a Jan. 3 board meeting, McRae stepped down as chairman to became vice chairman. In February, the state charter commission met with Heritage officials for an annual review and were told the board’s investigation into McRae found no wrongdoing.

In addition, school trustees announced the board had been working with an attorney to ensure it followed open meeting laws.

Crystal Davidson, a founder of Heritage and one of the women who filed the grievance, said Monday her three children received an excellent education in the school’s inaugural year. She praised Heritage’s classical curriculum and enthusiastic teachers, but said board members failed to learn their proper roles and manage the school appropriately.

Davidson said the list of concerns raised by the Idaho Public Charter School Commission last week should help the school get back on track.

“All of [the commission’s] recommendations were productive and necessary. The board needed to hear those things and implement them,” Davidson said.

Davidson added she feels confident that Heritage’s new principal, Javier Castaneda, an experienced elementary school principal in Oregon, will guide the school in the right direction when he begins work July 1.

McRae said he also felt positive about the school’s direction.

“I see a path that will lead to where the school will very much succeed under new leadership. The charter school commission has humbled us in a way that we can look at ourselves and see the things we need to improve upon,” he said.

Can Heritage Charter students transfer credits?

Heritage Community Charter School’s pilot high school program operated last year without accreditation, and students who try to transfer their credits to local schools might have to take classes over.

Caldwell School District Interim Superintendent Jonathan Cline said that while transfer students are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, school districts usually don’t accept credits from an unaccredited school. Colleges and universities also tend to look askew at credits from unaccredited schools.

“If I were these parents, I would be getting them into a program that is accredited,” he said.

Nampa School District spokeswoman Allison Westfall said that district also evaluates students case-by-case, but credit is seldom awarded from unaccredited schools, especially for classes required for graduation.

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