Riverside Encore Closure

Katharine Wilson, News Editor

Encore High School for the Performing Arts, Riverside has had an uncertain future the last few months since their submission of a petition to renew their charter, followed by the Riverside Unified School District (RUSD) board’s late winter task to either renew or revoke the school’s charter. The charter was set to expire this school year and without it, Encore would not be able to function after June 30. Due to the school’s financial situation the school would most likely close immediately if the charter was revoked. Encore High School’s campus enrolls students from 7th through 12th grade and has operated for five years. Encore Education Corporation runs the Riverside school as well as a similar school in Hesperia. The performing arts school offers a curriculum where students can obtain a professional conservatory certification in a visual or performing arts sector such as circus art, technical art, dance as well as five others. 

On Dec. 20, 2019 Encore submitted a petition to renew their charter to RUSD. This gave the district 60 days to conduct a report over the petition with an oversight team of around 25 people. 

At the RUSD board meeting on Feb. 18, around 400 Encore supporters came to support their school. The meeting included 90 minutes of public input, after the time was extended through multiple motions as a reaction to the large number of speakers. These speakers included parents, students, and teachers who made arguments in favor of the school’s impact on their students. Multiple speakers made points about how Encore’s arts focus should take precedence over the issues with academic decline prevalent at Encore, and how the school has become a safe space to many students who have experienced bullying at other schools and a place where students can thoroughly immerse themselves in more creative subjects. 

“At RUSD I felt like one of many, just another number added to the class roster. Encore’s staff has supported me academically, artistically and emotionally. We are here because we know and believe Encore is special, unique and necessary for our success,” said one Encore junior. 

RUSD Assistant Superintendent Dr. Ryan Lewis and Dina Harris from the law firm Best, Best & Krieger then presented the report evaluating Encore’s petition. 

“You heard so many stories from students and community members. They care about Encore and this is from a dad and an educator, that’s what we hope for in our schools. Unfortunately there is another side that we have to do, and we are tasked to bring to the board tonight a report. Some of these (findings) may be hard to hear,” said Lewis.  

Harris went over multiple reasons why the school should not receive a renewed charter. Encore’s academic reports (as reported through standardized tests) should be improving or similar to academic reports from other schools in Riverside county, but the school did not meet these expectations. The school’s finances were also a major problem that Harris addressed, as Encore has predicted it’s revenue and expenditures disastrously wrong over its history. Some errors included a budgeted ending balance of $41,300 but the year ending with a deficit of -$799,000 in the 2017/2018 school year, misallocation of student funds to general Encore funds, and the sale of account receivables. Encore did place in their petition a plan to decrease enrollment from 800 students to 600 students, reduce their facilities and their staff in order to save money. 

The school also has failed to have a balance of racial and ethnic groups as well as significant numbers of special education, English learner students, and low-income students and they did not have a plan in their petition to remedy this situation. Harris also noted multiple Brown Act violations. This act sets forth strict requirements for school board meetings in order to allow for public participation. The petition did not meet the requirements of a legally sufficient charter petition, according to Harris. Encore has also received a notice of violations and a letter of concern in the past. A lack of leadership was a primary concern for the school. This board meeting concluded that there would be an additional 30 days for RUSD and Encore to conduct further research and come up with a plan to move forward. 

At the board meeting on Mar.18  a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between RUSD and Encore Education Corporation was passed. Among many other changes, this created a charter school board which would consist of two board members selected by the Encore Education Corporation and three board members appointed by the RUSD board of trustees. The board would have full autonomy to run Encore Riverside separately from Encore Education Corporation and was set to begin in July. The MOU also stated that if the school did not adhere to financial benchmarks set in place over the next two years to get the school out of debt or fulfill the requests by the oversight team by 2021, RUSD would issue a notice of closure for the school. 

However this MOU was thrown out on April 30when the Encore board decided to close down Encore Riverside before the new board was set to gain control of the charter school in July. The Encore board cites that this move was due to the massive decline in enrollment since the February RUSD board meeting. 

“I was expecting it all along so it didn’t hit me too hard. Of course I’m sad but it can’t be helped,” said Encore seventh grader Abby Alldredge. 

The school reported numbers dropping to around 600 students from the usual 872 students, according to the Press Enterprise. Encore Riverside will close permanently on June 30, while the Hesperia campus continues. 

“As a parent I am saddened that the school is closing because there is nothing like it in our RUSD schools. However, I also understand why it was necessary to close,” said Encore parent Leah Alldredge.