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Southern Oregon school district denies contentious charter school proposal

Members of the Pinehurst School Board at a Jan. 25 meeting. From l-r, Alison Kling, Jackee' Randall, Rachel Pellow, Mary Anne Crandall and Jeanne Randall.
Jane Vaughan
Members of the Pinehurst School Board at a Jan. 25 meeting. From l-r, Alison Kling, Jackee' Randall, Rachel Pellow, Mary Anne Crandall and Jeanne Randall.

The rural Pinehurst School District outside Ashland is one of Oregon's smallest districts. Only 15 students are enrolled in grades K-6.

The proposed charter school would have swelled the tiny district to hundreds of kids and followed the model of California-based John Adams Academy. They teach what they describe as a classical education curriculum, focused on American values like liberty and honor. According to the John Adams Academy’s website, its mission is “restoring America’s heritage by developing servant-leaders who are keepers and defenders of the principles of freedom for which our Founding Fathers pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.”

At the virtual meeting on Wednesday night, three school board members voted to deny the application. The remaining two members (both of whom are related to one of the individuals proposing the charter school) abstained from the vote.

Board chair Mary Anne Crandall said she had concerns about the financial viability of the project.

"There are parents in the community that do support the charter school. However, those parents are not the financial stewards of this district. The board is the financial steward of the district," she said.

The proposal has caused division in the rural Green Springs community. Dozens of residents attended a public hearing in January to weigh in. Some were concerned about an outside group using the district to sponsor a much larger school located in the Rogue Valley, in addition to the smaller school within the district. Others liked the classical curriculum and supported having more choice in their education options.

The Oregon School Boards Association recommended denying the application. OSBA Board Development Specialist Kristen Miles said in a presentation Wednesday night that the application did not meet criteria regarding demonstrated sustainable support for the school, financial stability and provision of special education services, among others.

In addition, according to the OSBA report, "there is an indication that this application, if approved, would have a negative impact on the education of the students in the Pinehurst School District."

Board member Jeanne Randall abstained from the vote, although she has repeatedly assured the public that she has no conflict of interest with the proposal her daughter submitted.

Still, during Wednesday's meeting she expressed support for the new charter school, saying, "I do believe this is one of the most stunning opportunities that Pinehurst District has to remain stable and relevant well into the future."

Multiple community members had called for Randall to recuse herself from the vote.

Board member Alison Kling voted against the charter school but said the process has shown her a variety of opinions about bringing a new charter school to the rural community.

"We have heard from parents, and we are the stewards of this school, and I think there are things that we as a board can do to try to meet the needs of a wider part of our community," she said.

The charter school applicants now have the option to resubmit their plan with revisions. The school board would then have 30 days to vote on the new proposal. If that version were to be denied, the applicants could appeal to the State Board of Education.

Jane Vaughan is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. Jane began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media.