Friday, March 9, 2007

The Latest Ploy to Stop Charter Schools

We see different "seasons" from the anti-charter school folks. A few years ago the strategy was "negotiate to impasse." Now the strategy is to set the standard in a list of contingencies to open so high that it's impossible for a charter school to open.

In Colorado, if a charter school applicant is denied they can appeal that denial to the State Board of Education. A group of charter school parents in northern Jefferson County have been working for over five years to get a high school for their three K-8 Core Knowledge charter schools. These parents have a wealth of experience operating a successful school including getting bond financing for facilities and demonstrating academic improvement.

Initially these parents wanted to work with the Jeffco school district and submitted an option school proposal. After 8 months of not even hearing a response to the proposal (there are no statutory deadlines) the parents submitted a charter proposal. Suddenly the district became very interested in an option school and the board voted to open a new option school similar to the one these parents proposed. What's the problem? Parent participation was not going to be permitted. These parents were going to be relegated to PTO work.

The next year the parents submitted another charter proposal and then appealed the denial to the State Board of Education. The 8-member State Board had a split vote and so the charter appeal failed. However, individuals on the board chastised Jeffco for failing to open a school that had demand and came from a group of individuals who had already demonstrated success.

In the fall of 2005 founders of Madison Charter High School submitted a third charter application. This, too, was ultimately denied by the Jeffco school board. However, after two appeals to the State Board, the district was ordered to open Madison Charter High School and negotiate a contract within 90 days.

In the district's motion to approve they included a list of contingencies along with associated deadlines for meeting the contingency. One such example was that Madison High School would open with 400 students. Now Madison HS's charter application never contained a growth plan and never stated how many students would be enrolled the first year. How could the organizers state a specific number of students without a facility?

District staff saw the proposed Madison HS budget contained three different student count scenarios: 400, 600 & 800 students. This was the rationale used for claiming Madison HS "proposed" opening with 400 students!

The site selected by Madison HS board members was designed to hold 270 students and that size was also recommended by the new school's administrator. Further, the design of Madison HS was focused on a "small school atmosphere."

None of this mattered. The Jeffco school board on March 1, 2007 failed to amend their previous resolution, which left the Madison HS board without an opportunity to appeal the decision to the State Board of Education.

Clever, isn't it? Create a list of unrealistic contingencies and then claim it was the charter organizer's fault! Further, without taking any action there isn't a "trigger" to allow an appeal to the State Board of Education. This is the third time Jeffco has employed this strategy. Watch for it to happen more.


Colorado Media Watch said...

Does someone have a list of charter school applicants that have been denied or been forced to appeal?

Denise said...

The Colorado Dept of Education has a list of all charter school applicants that have appealed to the State Board of Education and their outcome.