Charter school for Fresno's Lowell community sought

The Fresno BeeAugust 22, 2012 

A group of community leaders and educators have proposed a new charter school to serve children in Fresno's Lowell neighborhood. The Kepler Neighborhood School would focus on community building in the troubled neighborhood, which loosely runs between Belmont Avenue and Divisadero Street and has long been plagued by poverty.

Kepler supporters told the Fresno Unified School Board Wednesday night that the new school would offer an alternative to the three public elementary schools the neighborhood feeds -- Lowell, Webster and Jefferson. The board heard testimony about the charter petition; it will vote next month on the new school, which would open for the 2013-14 school year.

"With the concentrated poverty that exists there ... we need a plethora of options," said Lowell resident Randy White.

The school is named for Johannes Kepler, a German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer. While it has a name, the school doesn't yet have a location -- school founders said they are looking at four different properties and plan to make a decision soon.

Also on Wednesday:

-- Trustee Michelle Asadoorian submitted a public records request for information she said she has been denied for as long as year.

In a letter addressed to Superintendent Michael Hanson, Asadoorian wrote that "the district's pattern of hiding public information and operating in a manner contrary to the principles of transparency ... show disdain for laws demanding openness."

Asadoorian's requests include all legal fees the district paid law firms over the past five years, broken down by the type of legal matter and law firm.

Asadoorian also restated an earlier request, which she said was ignored, for district funds and time spent on the controversy surrounding Trustee Tony Vang's residency. The Bee reported in May that Vang owned a house and voted in the Clovis Unified School District, where he also sent his daughter to a school. The district communications team portrayed him as a victim of the housing foreclosure crisis and has declined to address community concerns that Vang has lived outside the McLane High School district he was elected to represent.

-- Vang was again absent from the meeting, reportedly out sick with the flu, according to his spokesman. Vang has missed three of the last five meetings.

Trustees are paid a monthly stipend of $1,443. Vang is a professor at Fresno State, which started the fall semester Wednesday.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, hsomerville@fresnobee.com or @heathersomervil on Twitter.

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