The Monterey County Office of Education brought Millennium Charter High School into the world. And today during a meeting of its board of trustees, the Monterey County Office of Education decided to take the school out of the world as well.
Opened in 2013, the school was created from a what MCOE boardmember Harvey Kuffner called a "groundswell" of locals who were passionate about providing a quality digital media and arts education to high school students. It was pitched as a school that would have small class sizes, a tight-knit community and a pathway to jobs in technical and creative fields.
But six years later, MCOE's board had to decide two things: whether MCOE would revoke Millennium's charter and whether MCOE would approve a merger between Millennium and the nonprofit company Compass Charter Schools for the reminder of MCHS charter.
The meeting was well-attended, with a crowd so large it spilled out into an extra viewing room, where the meeting was broadcast live. Parents, current students, graduates, MCHS staff and representatives of Compass Charter Schools, the nonprofit company that proposed a merger with MCHS, were all present.
Officially, decisions had to be made because MCOE, MCHS' authorizing district, had found the school was nearly $200,000 in debt to them in June 2018.
In February 27, MCOE issued the school's board a notice of violations. The list included fiscal mismanagement, failure to hire credentialed teachers and principals and failure to provide adequate special education services.
Then on April 10, MCOE issued a notice of intent to revoke MCHS charter, and set a public hearing on May 8.
On April 25, Millennium High announced they were approached by Compass and were working on amending their current charter to include a merger between the two institutions that would at least get them through the remainder of their charter. Compass presented their ideas in the May 8 public hearing.
But MCOE's board did not make a final decision.
They did on June 5. Beginning with a presentation of findings by the MCOE staff, MCOE found that Compass Charter Schools was founded by Sean McManus under the original name Academy of Arts and Sciences. McManus was indicted in late May for allegedly using the string of charter schools he co-founded to funnel money into his own pockets. Prosecutors in San Diego say the 46-year-old McManus, who's believed to be in Australia, scammed $50 million from the state by enrolling students it found through other schools and youth programs into schools that didn't actually exist.
Compass' new CEO tried to plead their case. J.J. Lewis said in the board meeting, "[Compass] wants to move away from [McManus]." Indeed they did, placing him on administrative leave in the past and then letting him go from the company.
But the breakup doesn't necessarily wipe Compass hands clean from other questionable behavior. MCOE has also found that Compass has a habit of proposing mergers to charters on the brink of closing because of financial woes. The most recent merger deal on the table is with REALM in Berkeley.
MCOE has also found that Compass student performance is far from ideal with an average graduation rate of ten percent and inadequate services provided to English learners and special education students. (MCHS has a graduation rate of 97.2 percent)
There were also questions surrounding implementation and how Compass online-based platform would mesh with MCHS identity as a hands-on arts and digital media school. Though they share a spirit very much centered around individual need, the board could not find a clear answer from Lewis on what that would look like.
A few other unanswered questions was how Compass would propose to help MCHS financially and who would be in charge of oversight. Compass proposed $500,000—money they has ostensibly gathered in other counties in their other schools. Compass is also based nearly 300 miles away from Salinas. Several board members mentioned MCHS worked in the past before because it was a local effort.
In the end, the board voted 6-1 to deny the merger, with the opposing vote from John McPherson, and the board voted unanimously to revoke MCHS' charter, effective June 30.
MCOE encourages students from the 2019-2020 school year to enroll in their high school based on residency, enroll in alternative programs provided by their district of residency, enroll in MCOE alternative programs or enroll private high school programs.