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Proposed new Tulsa charter schools could require change in state law

Proposed new Tulsa charter schools could require change in state law

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The Tulsa school board learned Monday that a new kind of partnership with three newly proposed charter schools could require a state attorney general’s opinion or change in law and involve co-locating some of the schools in traditional public school facilities.

All three of the proposed school operators have been trained and are being supported by a Boston-based national nonprofit corporation called Building Excellent Schools, or BES.

If approved, the new schools would open in the fall 2015 semester, with two to be located in east Tulsa and one near 61st Street and Peoria Avenue.

“If we do a contract, we are entering into new territory,” Superintendent Keith Ballard told the board. “We would have to secure an AG’s opinion or a change in law to go forward with charter-contracts. … The contracts could extend into co-locations. That’s where we got the concept — from charter-contract co-locations in Spring Branch, Texas.”

Unlike traditional charter schools, which are responsible for their own facilities, maintenance, child nutrition and transportation, Tulsa Public Schools would take on those responsibilities with “charter-contract” schools. The school district also would count the students among its own enrollees and therefore would be accountable for their test scores, but it would leave the hiring and firing of teachers and academic model of the schools up to the independent charter operators, Ballard said.

Ballard said he and other district administrators have been studying the way this is already being done in the Spring Branch school district in metro Houston.

Lana Turner-Addison, chairwoman of the board’s Charter School Committee, said: “I want the community to know the decision we are potentially going to enter into with three potential charters is not taken lightly. The charter conversation has been going on for years now.

“Are we pro-charters or anti-charters? With this board makeup, I see us as being pro-choice. Sometimes you need to open it up for additional opportunities and options that have more flexibility.

“We continue to do what we can and get better through time, but we have barriers that charters do not.”

Board member Leigh Goodson wanted to know whether the charter schools would be required to “report back” to Tulsa Public Schools, and her fellow board member Suzanne Schreiber responded in the affirmative, pointing out that the district’s three existing charter school partners already do that.

Asked after the meeting by the Tulsa World, district officials said the George Kaiser Family Foundation is one of the groups paying for BES to support the three new Tulsa charter proponents.

To date, BES has already established more than 60 schools in urban settings in 12 states and the District of Columbia, with more than 20,000 students enrolled from families with household incomes at or below the poverty line.

The three BES sites proposed for Tulsa are College Bound Academy Charter School and Tulsa Honor Academy, which would be located in east Tulsa, and Collegiate Hall Charter School, which would be in the neighborhood near 61st and Peoria.

Other business: Chief Academic Officer Tracy Bayles told the board that TPS learned Monday that it will be awarded a grant of $3.8 million total over the next three year from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for a new professional development system. Last fall, the foundation awarded the district a $300,000 planning grant to help develop the new system.

The school board also unanimously approved the hiring of a new principal for McLain High School, as part of a slate of other routine hires, after listening to the objections of one speaker.

During public comments on the issue, Willetta Burks told the board she and other community supporters of the school are concerned about high turnover, which she said was “approaching five principals in the last six years.”

She said she had no particular qualms with Enna Dancy, the former assistant principal at McLain High School who will now be McLain’s principal, but she said she and other neighborhood leaders wanted a say in the process of selecting someone they think will be committed over a longer term.

“This travesty cannot happen again next year,” Burks said. “There is an appearance of emotional abandonment.”

Andrea Eger 918-581-8470

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Staff Writer

I'm a projects reporter, examining key education topics and other local issues. Since joining the Tulsa World in 1999, I have been a three-time winner of Oklahoma’s top award for investigative reporting by an individual. Phone: 918-581-8470

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