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Santa Rosa school board seeks legal opinion on Doyle Park closure vote


The Santa Rosa school board is still waiting for a second opinion on whether its vote to close Doyle Park Elementary School to make way for a French American Charter School was tainted by conflict of interest.

Santa Rosa School Board member Tad Wakefield. (Crista Jeremiason)

Board president Larry Haenel said Thursday that the matter was being reviewed by a law firm that specializes in legal matters affecting education institutions and public agencies.

Last week, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area protested the vote and demanded the board rescind its March 15 decision.

At issue is a key vote by trustee Tad Wakefield, who prior to voting acknowledged that he had expressed interest in having his two young children attend the charter school. He also said publicly that he had asked the board’s legal counsel Bob Henry if there was any conflict, and that he was told there was none.

Haenel said that Henry laid out his legal view during a closed board session meeting Wednesday. The board now is waiting for a second legal opinion from the law firm of Lozano Smith, which serves school districts statewide and has a Santa Rosa office.

The board will review that assessment, which was requested at the beginning of the week, “before making any decision about how to respond to this matter,” Haenel said.

The lawyers’ committee in an email sent to the board last week said common law doctrine and the school’s own policies should have compelled Wakefield to recuse himself, not only from the vote but from any part of the discussion leading up to the vote.

But Henry said that the law allows trustees to be interested parties when a board acts as a legislative body. His opinion was sent to the lawyers’ committee after the board’s closed session meeting on Wednesday.

Cecilia Chen, one of the committee’s lead attorneys, said Thursday that she could not comment on Henry’s opinion because she had not had a chance to review it in detail.

She said she will be meeting with other attorneys at the lawyers’ committee on Monday to consider the matter.

The committee was alerted to the school closure a day after the vote by a Santa Rosa group called “Poder,” which supports Latino parents with kids in the district. Chen and other attorneys with the civil rights committee then began to review newspaper reports and school board documents.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.

5 Responses to “Santa Rosa school board seeks legal opinion on Doyle Park closure vote”

  1. Michaele Morales says:

    The only board members that have any integrity are board members Gonzalez and Kristof, for they stood by their principles.
    On the other hand, shame on board members Haenel, Jeye, Carle and Wakefeld for bowing down to the entitled FAC parents.
    This whole situation has been suspect from day one, there was a lack of transparency throughout the whole process. Time line: In mid Nov., FAC comes to SRCS to ask to be charter, in mid December, FAC signs on with SRCS, in mid Jan., discussion about closing Doyle Park, end of Jan., the district has fake town hall meeting, where they pretend to listen to parents, students and teachers, mid Feb., they try and close, it doesn’t pass, mid March, they voted 4-2, to close. Although the district says differently, the only catalyst for closing Doyle was the deal district staff made with entitiled FAC to give them the site. One would think that the process of closing a school would take more than two months, but not in SRCS where they made back room deals with FAC. This of course, was a done deal from day one, because the district worked hand in hand with FAC to recruit SRCS students. If only they had only worked so hard for Doyle Park school we wouldn’t be in this mess. Now, they are willing to pay for extra legal representation to essentially fight for the rights for FAC. And they are doing all of this on the backs of the Doyle students, parents and staff, which have been dragged though hell throughout this whole process.
    Shame on Santa Rosa City Schools district staff, and the four board members who voted yes on closure. This is far from over.

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  2. Accountable says:

    I find it disingenuous that School Board members and the PD are painting the issue of closing Doyle Park as new and racially motivated. The following is an excerpt from a PD editorial from 10/17/2009, titled “Failing Grade”:

    “In past discussions of possible cuts, district officials said closing an elementary school could save up to $500,000 a year, and closing a middle school could save up to $900,000. The most likely victims may be Doyle Park Elementary and Hilliard Comstock Middle School, which were identified in 2008 as candidates for closure.”

    This decision has been discussed and debated for 4 years. The only thing that has changed at the school has been a yearly or bi-yearly turnover of Principals and a declining enrollment. Schools in the county and the State are closing and students are having to relocate. I feel for how upsetting that is for families, but when one puts this in a global perspective…it could be a lot worse.

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  3. Paul says:

    You mean to tell me it’s not a fraud and a boondoggle?

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  4. Joseph Donegan says:

    Such a`sad state of affairs`when the public trust is broken and`law firms seeking a big payday when this matter is litigated.

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  5. Missy says:

    Doyle Park School had ONE graduating class of 28 kids. The French school will have people beating down the doors to get in. It’s rather simple of what school should be there. Look a brand new elementary school was built in Roseland, majority Spanish speakers.

    They will close this school eventually. Let this be the FRENCH school. Lots of benefits if this becomes the needed French school, and property values in the area will shoot UP. Look at Palo Alto for instance. Good schools mean GREAT property values.

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