Sunday, June 26, 2005

Letter To The Editor On Charter School Facilites 

June 26, 2005

Editor, The Washington Post

Dear Sir,

V. Dion Haynes accurately describes the horrible frustration that characterizes the search for permanent facilities by charter schools. After living through this phenomenon for five years with two different schools I have come to the conclusion that the problem is intractable based upon a quartet of inherent Catch 22's:

1. A school needs to have identified a facility in order to be awarded a charter but no landlord will sign a lease until a charter has been granted.

2. The revenue needed to pay for renting a facility is awarded to a school based upon the number of students a school enrolls. However, no school knows how may students it can enroll until it knows how much space it can obtain.

3. No new charter school opens with the enrollment it will have once it has reached maturity based upon its expansion plans. However, no landlord will allow a school to reserve space needed for the future unless it has been rented. Therefore, when it comes time for a school to expand it finds that it has become "land-locked" at it current site and must start the facility search from scratch.

4. While the per pupil facility payment will often cover rent it does not provide for tenant improvement dollars. Because charters are essentially start-up businesses it is rare that a bank will lend money for renovating a property since the school has no financial track record. Establishing a financial track record is only possible through attracting additional students, which is only possible by obtaining a facility with enough space and amenities to draw them to the school.

While many of us have been able to rise above these obstacles and obtain a permanent facility it is past time for those involved in the vibrant charter school movement to admit the obvious. The D.C. charter school law is critically flawed when it comes to securing facilities and needs to be fixed. Once this reality is accepted we can work together to come up with a much better way to house these important educational institutions.


Mark S. Lerner
Chairman of the Board of Directors
The William E. Doar, Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts

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