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Paul conversion protest

Control board decision sparks DCPS turmoil

(Published March 27, 2000)


Staff Writer

The federally appointed financial control board’s recent decision to turn over Paul Junior High to a new charter school has sparked turmoil within the city’s public school system – from student protests to the abrupt resignation of all but one member of the control board’s education advisory board.

The control board cancelled a rare public meeting March 22, shortly before it was to convene to appoint members of the elected D.C. Board of Education to its advisory panel vacancies, after learning that school board members declined the planned appointments.

"Apparently, nobody had bothered to ask them if they would serve and they said ‘no,’" a knowledgeable source said.

The Rev. Robert G. Childs, president of the elected school board, asked the control board during a March 14 press conference to allow the Board of Education "to immediately assume the role as primary advisers to the control board."

"The rush to turn over the school facility … and to change the governance structure of the Board of Education shows that lawmakers are not taking seriously the effect that these decisions will have on communities today and communities for future generations," he said. "The citizens deserve more than rushed decisions that satisfy the need of political agendas."

Two school board members – Childs and at-large representative Tonya Kinlow – were among the six members of the Emergency Transitional Education Board of Trustees who resigned their advisory positions March 13 to protest the Paul decision.

Childs and Kinlow also were among the five school board members that the control board had planned to appoint to fill the vacancies. D.C. City Councilman Kevin P. Chavous, D-Ward 7, chairman of the council’s education committee, had suggested the appointment of the school board’s president and its four committee chairmen "to provide the continuity needed in this period of transition."

Most of the elected school board’s legal authority was assumed by the control board the day after D.C. voters elected six of the school board’s 11 members in November 1996. The elected school board retained authority only as a chartering and oversight body for some of the city’s publicly funded charter schools.

A provisional charter was issued last September to a group headed by Paul Junior High Principal Cecile Middleton to make Paul the first entire public school to convert to charter status. The Public Charter School Board, a second chartering authority for D.C. public schools that was created by Congress, issued the charter to Paul contingent on securing the necessary facilities.

The control board’s March 10 decision to hand over control of Paul’s building at 5800 Eighth St. NW for exclusive use by the charter school went against the recommendations of the control board’s advisory board, the elected school board and Superintendent Arlene Ackerman.

Ackerman planned to create a new math and technology magnet school to share the Paul building with the charter school. The magnet program would offer an alternative to students who wanted to continue attending school at Paul but who did not want to leave the traditional public school system to do so.

The control board’s decision has left Ackerman and her staff scrambling to find space in other buildings to accommodate the Paul students and next year’s incoming students from feeder elementary schools who do not choose to attend the Paul charter school.

D.C. Public Schools spokeswoman Denise Tann said deadlines will need to be set soon for students to decide which school they plan to attend next year, so that staffing and other operational decisions can be made.

Control board Vice Chairman Constance Newman said she expects out-of-boundary registration rules will be waived to accommodate Paul students who want to stay within the traditional public school system. School officials are discussing the possibility of busing or other alternatives to transport students who live too far away to walk to the new junior high or middle school they will need to attend.

Newman said the control board "took Paul off the table…so that we could then have a larger discussion" to ensure that both traditional public school and charter school interests are taken into consideration when any future public school conversions occur.

"Now we’ve got to get people together," she said, adding that she supports the city council’s recently enacted moratorium on public school conversions to charter status.

"There wasn’t enough planning for the relationship between the charter schools and the regular school system…. How should they interact? What should be the synergy? How can they learn from one another?" Newman said.

"You have to be careful about how you manage the resources, so you don’t end up diminishing the possibility of either of them being able to be effective because you’re jerking the resources around.

"There has to be a planned way," she said. "There has to be communication. Part of my concern about facilities moving to converted (charter) schools is that, when that happens, it should be in a larger context – what has the city determined is the need for educational facilities?"

Newman, the control board member assigned primary oversight responsibility for the city’s public schools, expressed concern that U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., who chairs the D.C. appropriations subcommittee, failed to invite a representative of the elected school board to testify before his committee’s March 21 oversight hearing on D.C. public charter schools.

Micah Swafford, Istook’s press secretary, told The Common Denominator the school board was not invited to participate in the hearing because "the elected school board has no authority. The people who were invited are the people with ultimate authority over the charter schools," she said.

Invited to testify were control board Chairman Alice M. Rivlin, Newman, Superintendent Ackerman, D.C. Public Charter School Board Chairman Josephine Baker, and D.C. Public Charter School Coalition Chairman Malcolm Peabody. Ackerman has "no authority" over charter schools, according to a D.C. Public Schools spokeswoman. Peabody’s group is not a governmental body.

"I do not understand that at all," Newman said of Istook’s press secretary’s comments about the school board lacking charter school authority.

"That’s not true…because, in fact, the elected school board has more charter schools than the other charter authority," Newman said. "They had that charter authority all along and it’s total. We don’t interfere in their decisions about what schools are in and what schools are out."

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator