The Orange County Board of Education Wednesday approved the charter for the Orange County School of the Arts, ending the award-winning school’s relationship with the Santa Ana Unified School District.

The charter school is locked into a $19 million dispute over what the school district says is back payments for special education services. That dispute is awaiting trial in civil court.

Santa Ana Unified board members in December approved a conditional renewal of the School of the Arts’ charter, but school officials say there were multiple deal points they objected to, so they turned to the county board to approve its charter.

The county board approved a renewal of the school’s charter by a 3-1-1 vote with Beckie Gomez voting no and Jack Bedell abstaining.

“The Orange County School of the Arts community can now breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the school they cherish is here to stay,” said Ralph Opacic, a school founder and current executive director. “While I always had faith that the quality and impact of our program would be recognized, I am grateful to the Orange County Board of Education and the Orange County Department of Education for becoming our new partner. Together, we will continue to provide life-transforming education to the next generation of artists and scholars.”

The school, which was established in 1987, has about 2,200 students from grades seventh through 12th. School officials say the school has students who reside in more than 30 cities in the county, and more than 100 cities across the Southland, so a county charter is more appropriate.

School officials disputed the $19 million Santa Ana Unified claims it is owed, and they argued that the district failed to give them proper 15-month notice before enforcing collection.

Santa Ana Unified officials sent a notice to the state declaring the charter failed to be in “good standing” with the district, which blocked funding for the school, but district officials reversed course when the school appealed in court.

Santa Ana Unified officials issued a statement saying they supported the county board staff recommendation to approve the charter with specific conditions. In the staff’s agenda, report issues were raised about how the school raises funds from parents and its admission requirements.

“While we appreciate the relationship that we have fostered with OCSA over the last 20 years, we support OCDE providing oversight of OCSA going forward, as we believe there are still outstanding issues to be resolved at the school,” the statement reads.

Santa Ana Unified officials said the county’s taking over of the charter “does not exempt (the school) from its responsibilities for their pro rata share contribution for district-wide special education services.”

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