Thursday, April 28, 2005

FOCUS Update 

April 27, 2005

--BOE Approves List of 10 Schools for Potential Fall '05 Co-Location
--No Action on Promised Surplus Properties
--One More Chance for SouthEast Academy

BOE Approves List of 10 Schools for Potential Fall '05 Co-Location

After months of delay and under heavy pressure from the District Council, the Board of Education yesterday approved a list of 10 DCPS schools that could potentially house charter schools next fall. Seven board members voted for; William Lockridge, who represents wards 7 and 8, voted no. One member was absent.

The schools are Bunker Hill (prek-6), Draper (prek-6), Emery (prek-6), Ferebee-Hope (prek-6), Fletcher-Johnson (prek-8), Old Miner (vacant), PR Harris (prek-8), Tyler (prek-8), Ron Brown (6-8), and Hart (6-8). According to DCPS, the ten schools together have room for 3,011 charter school students.

Yesterday's vote was supposed to take place at the Board's March meeting but was postponed for reasons unknown. Board approval of the list is only the first step on a long road to signing co-location leases. DCPS must now publish the list of schools in the D.C. Register, request letters of interest from the charter schools, notify ANC's and hold community meetings, choose which charter schools to offer leases to, and negotiate the lease terms. Finally, the Board must hold a public hearing on the leases and, following the hearing, vote whether to approve or reject the leases. This process was originally intended to end in May to give the co-locating charter schools enough time to renovate the leased space; under a revised schedule released yesterday lease signings will not occur until July.

It is not known how many of the ten schools will survive the expected community opposition to sharing school buildings with charter schools, nor how many charter schools will still need space in July (as of today, several of the dozen new and expansion charter schools scheduled to open next fall have not yet found buildings in which to open their schools). What's more, charter schools wishing to co-locate in these buildings will be offered only one-year leases, far too short to make it financially possible for them to undertake significant renovations.

In materials made public at yesterday's Board meeting, the superintendent described this year's co-location plan as an interim measure to make better short-term use of DCPS space while he completes his "master education plan" and a revised Long Range Facilities Master Plan. After these are completed it is expected that the community will be asked to support the closing of a number of schools that DCPS enrollment does not justify keeping open. According to a recent Brookings/21st Century School Fund report, DCPS controls more than 5 million square feet of space it doesn't need for its students - enough room to house the current number of charter school students twice over.

No Action on Promised Surplus Properties

Meanwhile, the charter schools still have not been permitted to bid on five surplus school buildings promised to them by the Mayor at a press conference in August of 2004.

As we reported in the March 29 edition of the Bulletin, the mayor had decided to accede to a Council demand that he resubmit for Council approval the disposition requests on the five buildings. The mayor had submitted the requests last fall but the 90-day Council review period did not have time to run by December 31, the end of the last Council period. The administration and the Council then got into a dispute about whether the disposition approval request needed to be resubmitted in the new Council period which began in January, starting anew the 90-day clock.

In March FOCUS was told by an administration official that the requests had been resubmitted to the Council, but staff to Councilmember Orange, the chair of the committee which reviews the requests, have told FOCUS that no requests have been received. Administration officials have not responded to inquiries about when the requests will be made.

One More Chance for SouthEast Academy

The D.C. Public Charter School Board has given SouthEast Academy Public Charter School another chance to avoid being closed down after this school year for failing to reach the academic goals it had set for its students.

At its April 18th public meeting, the Board decided that SouthEast can avoid charter revocation by making changes to its board of trustees and school leadership that are "satisfactory" to the Board. If SouthEast complies with this demand it will be permitted to stay open for another year, during which it must improve the academic performance of its students, its governance, and its "compliance with applicable regulations" or be shut down.

The Board had voted unanimously at its March meeting to begin the process of revoking SouthEast's charter and held a public hearing on the revocation on April 5. Under the School Reform Act, D.C.'s charter school law, a charter school may be closed down at any time for financial mismanagement or failure to obey applicable laws, and after five years for failure to achieve its academic goals. SouthEast opened in the fall of 1999 in Ward 8 and today enrolls approximately 675 students in grades K-8.

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