Voices, MHUSD settle squabble over $125K

Charter has three years to spend money or return it

Voices-Morgan Hill charter school leaders must spend $125,000 earmarked for facilities upgrades by Jan. 20, 2022 or return the funds to Morgan Hill Unified School District, per an amended agreement between the two parties.

MHUSD’s board of education unanimously ratified the new terms to the alternative facilities use agreement at a March 19 meeting.

“I think the good news is that we reached a mutually agreeable conclusion,” said MHUSD Board President Mary Patterson. “The (prior) agreement was interpreted differently by both parties. It was not specific as to when the $125,000 in leiu payment had to be spent.”

In May 2016, MHUSD and Voices worked out an alternative facilities agreement that included the $125,000 one-time, lump-sum payment from the district. The deal was also depended on the charter’s dismissal of a complaint challenging the district’s denial of facilities for 2015-16 and willingness to waive all rights to facilities for three years to 2017-18.

Voices’ Morgan Hill charter school operates within MHUSD boundaries but is authorized through the Santa Clara County Office of Education. It originally ran its school out of the Advent Lutheran Church on Murphy Avenue before moving into the former Silicon Valley Flex Academy building at 610 Jarvis Drive.

“We are grateful that the (MHUSD) board was willing to have discussions to amend the agreement in a manner we both thought was fair,” said Marie Moore, a spokesperson for Voices. “Nothing has changed from the original agreement about how and when Voices intends to use the money.”

In that original agreement, MHUSD gave Voices the $125,000 to purchase a portable classroom for the Advent site to accommodate their increased enrollment. However, Voices never bought the portable and instead opted to move its school to the larger facility.

Staff from Voices and MHUSD met in December 2018 to review the areas of concern and mutually decided to amend the agreement to clarify the timeline for the expenditure of the lump sum payment, according to district staff.

MHUSD officials later questioned where the money had gone, since Voices moved sites and had not submitted any expense receipts for the $125,000. Voices responded that the money had not been spent and they were still determining the best use for the funds. The two sides disagreed on the deadline to spend the $125,000 on facility upgrades until coming to the amended agreement earlier this month.

“What we’ve done is, because of that lack of clarity, we clarified the terms and extended the deadline,” Patterson said. “They have three more years to spend the money and must send the district the receipts to close out the in-lieu deal.”

According to the California Department of Education database, Voices Morgan Hill served 186 students in grades kindergarten through third grade during the 2017-18 school term. Voices’ enrollment includes 139 English Language Learners and 156 students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. The principal is Juan Carlos Villasenior.

“Voices is looking at all options for a permanent facility in Morgan Hill,” Moore said. “And we’ll continue to grow at the current site in the meantime.”

The charter company, Voices College-Bound Language Academies, has four charter schools in Northern California. Along with its Morgan HIll site, it has campuses within the Franklin-McKinley, Mount Pleasant and West Contra Costa School Districts.

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