State officials overseeing the anti-bias settlement in the Sausalito Marin City School District have agreed to allow district funds to go to its charter school in Sausalito to stabilize operations there during the current unification process.

“We want to make sure that Willow Creek Academy is stable throughout the unification process,” district superintendent Itoco Garcia said in announcing the funding approval. “I truly hope this will be the start of more clarity and surety.”

Garcia, speaking at a town hall Monday before about 60 parents at Willow Creek, said Janelle Scott, the monitor who is overseeing the settlement for the state Attorney General’s office, has approved an allocation from the district to the charter school of $112,987 in per-student funding. Garcia added that the monitor also is agreeable that the district finance salaries for several teachers in math and English language arts who will be working with students at both Willow Creek and the district’s traditional school, Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy in Marin City.

“We also will change the way the charter school is billed and the way money is distributed to the charter school so that we make sure dispersals come before the bills,” Garcia said. He also listed a plan for a facilities agreement at reduced rent for the Willow Creek campus.

Willow Creek board member Jeffrey Knowles said Friday he and board chairman Kurt Weinsheimer were skeptical of the proposals, but said they were willing to discuss options going forward. At least one Willow Creek board member, treasurer Jim Henry, has dropped out of the unification task force in recent weeks because he said he felt Willow Creek was not being adequately supported in the process.

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“Put simply, these proposals (from Garcia) are either illusory  — the first two bullets add no new funding beyond what the district is already legally obligated to provide, and the third (regarding use of the school building) attaches a condition making it worth little or nothing –or extremely modest,” Knowles said in an email.

“Having said that, Kurt (Weinsheimer) is accepting Superintendent Garcia’s offer to meet to see whether we might agree on meaningful support for WCA,” Knowles added.

Garcia pointed Friday to the strong turnout at Monday’s town hall at Willow Creek.

“More than 60 people attended (Monday’s) unification town hall meeting, all of whom did some amazing work to further our unification plan and many of whom were parents at Willow Cree,” Garcia said in an email. “As you will see in the (town hall) video, the views expressed (by the Willow Creek board members) aren’t shared by the majority of people doing the work.”

Another town hall is set for 6 p.m. Dec. 17 at Bayside MLK, 200 Phillips Drive, Marin City. After that, Garcia and other district leaders will synthesize the reports from the various parent and staff working groups and come up with a draft plan for a unified school. The draft plan will be presented to both the district board and Willow Creek trustees in January, he said.

“We’re looking at a dual language, pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, science, technology and arts magnet school,” Garcia told parents. He said the proposed magnet school could take advantage of a new state Proposition 27, which is effective Jan. 1, that would allow free public school pre-kindergarten slots to be offered to all families, regardless of income, if extra spaces are available beyond those designated for low-income families.

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“We hope to be at the forefront of this,” he said. “We hope to change the landscape for pre-kindergarten.”

Knowles said despite the issues over financing, the Willow Creek board “continues to support a truly collaborative merger of the two schools or a merger of the district with Mill Valley.” However, he said board members are still wary that Willow Creek, which lost about 30 families in enrollment for the current school year, will suffer.

“The presence of so many Willow Creek families at the last unification meeting speaks to our community’s commitment to a process that preserves what is best about Willow Creek,” Knowles said. “Unfortunately, at the moment that is not what is happening. Instead, the process feels like the closure of one school (Willow Creek) in favor of the other (Bayside MLK).”

Earlier this week, Marin County Superior Court Judge Stephen Freccero issued an amended ruling in a lawsuit Willow Creek has brought against the district over financing. Freccero, who also granted some wins to the district, ruled in favor of the charter school’s claim that it had not been granted “equal and fair funding” as required under the law.

In particular, the charter school is protesting the district’s elimination of $1 million in financing from a prior memorandum of understanding with the district that was allowed to expire without renewal, and the district’s declining to share any of the excess property tax revenue it collects with the charter school.

“The district is entrusted with $10 million in local property taxes, yet only $3 million is allocated to the 80% of district students who attend Willow Creek Academy,” Weinsheimer said Friday. “This means that the district spends roughly $7 million annually on its own operational overhead and the 110 students it serves at Bayside MLK.”

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If that inequity is true now, it was the reverse situation for some years in the past, according to the state attorney general’s two-year investigation and subsequent judgment and settlement in August. Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in announcing the settlement that prior district boards of trustees systematically drained money from Bayside MLK to support Willow Creek, and, in so doing, created a segregated school at Bayside.

The district in the settlement was ordered to desegregate Bayside MLK within five years.



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