December 2019

OUSD board urged to deny charter school application

By Tina Richards

A charter school seeking entry into the Orange Unified School District is being challenged by vocal constituents who object to its leadership, curriculum and marketing practices.

Orange County Classical Academy (OCCA) submitted its original application Sept. 26, then withdrew it and presented a revised version Oct. 17 to, according to applicant Mark Bucher, answer questions raised by the OUSD board on its first pass. 

The school, with an educational focus on classical and biblical texts, Latin and the “pillars of character” had been called out by board members for misrepresenting its relationship with Chapman University and misleading parents who signed its original application petition.

Its original claim that students would have preferential access to Chapman University admission and scholarships was changed in the revised application to reflect a relationship with the university that was “intended.”

Ambiguous accolades
During OCCA’s debut at the September OUSD board meeting, a dozen parents and students from other charter schools expressed their support for the alternative educational opportunities charter schools offered them. None spoke specifically of OCCA, leaving that discussion to the academy’s board members.

By its second appearance at the board’s public meeting in October, the only members of the public who addressed the charter application were opposed to it.  The charter was not on the board’s Nov. 14 meeting agenda, but OUSD parents, teachers and community members came prepared to challenge it. 

A Cerro Villa Middle School dad cited the school’s apparent “religious liberal arts and conservative platform,” noting that public funds should not be used for religious schools and that “parochial schools should not be in the same sphere as public schools.”

Past is prologue
He also recalled that Mark Bucher was a central figure in the “recall controversy 20 years ago.” At that time, district voters recalled three trustees who were part of Bucher’s “Educational Alliance,” seeking to privatize district activities and short-changing teachers. Bucher also served as the attorney for the recalled board members, and was paid with taxpayer dollars.

Michelle Weisenberg, too, recollected Bucher’s history with the district. “He made a mockery out of OUSD 20 years ago,” she said. “He tried to destroy it from the inside out. Now he wants to ‘partner’ with you.” She also pointed out that Bucher’s charter PAC donated to the campaigns of John Ortega and Brenda Lebsack. “They should recuse themselves,” she insisted.

Retired Judge Lynn Riddle reminded the board of OCCA’s misrepresentations to the public regarding its affiliation with Michigan-based Hillsdale University and Chapman. “In selling the academy, Bucher overpromised the Chapman relationship,” she reiterated. “I reject that they were ‘getting out over their skies’ (the explanation given for the error). Both (Bucher and Jeff Barke) tout impressive resumes, but both signed those documents. Reputable attorneys do not sign such documents, then say ‘oops.’”

Spread thin
Several constituents were concerned that the charter would drain OUSD resources. A parent from Lampson Elementary decried that school’s need for more support, instruction and an assistant principal.  “More than 800 students need more support from OUSD,” she said, “This charter will take away from our school.”

A Panorama Elementary parent questioned the need for another charter school. “Why is this classical academy coming,” she asked. “We have a very successful program at Panorama due to a strong PTA and parents. If we provide opportunities for students, there’s no reason for a charter to come in. It’s unnecessary.”

District staff is reviewing OCCA’s application. The board is scheduled to either approve or deny it at its Dec. 19 meeting.