Monday, August 23, 2010

Charter Schools and Real Estate

Charter Schools and Real Estate

Should a school district turn down a $3,75 million offer for a building they
cannot legally use for their intended purpose?

This month's Maple Grove Critical Thinking Discussion Group featured Greg
Friess, a board member of the newly approved Charter School, the Parnassus
Preparatory School

Charter Schools are public schools. When you enroll your child in a charter
school most of the per student dollars that would stay with your home
district goes to the charter school. Since charter schools are public
schools they cannot deny entry to a student when they have the space. And
they cannot promote a particular religion (which is the issue with the
ACLU's lawsuit against the TIZA academy which the ACLU believes promotes the
Muslim religion. The ACLU was a past speaker of the Critical Thinking

Since the whole mess with TIZA its become even more difficult to get
approval for a new charter school. You have to demonstrate that your program
is not available in the home district amongst many other things. In the
Parnassus case this is ISD 279 Osseo area schools.

It took Parnassus over a year to get approved, and they were one of the very
small group that did. Their Charter is based on rigorous academics with a
Classical education. An administrator from ISD 279, a regular at the
Critical Thinking Club, attended the meeting. The district is against
charter schools because it takes money away from the district. The
administrator and Greg completely agree on the goals of high academics and
closing the achievement gap with minority students. They don't agree on how
to get there.

Also at the meeting was the Principal from a parochial school. Someone
raised the question on how the Charter School would handle discipline The
principal said in her many years of education she has learned that if you
focus on academics you have very few discipline problems.

Thoughts have power. As shown by this story my meditation teacher told us
about his 14 year old son.

His summer school experiment replicated one that was done in Japan. He
took cooked white rice and put it in 2 sealed bottles. Didn't refrigerate
either. Labeled one "bad thoughts". . For one week he sent bad thoughts to
the "bad thoughts" rice. On the other he lovingly repeated his meditation
mantra. At the end of the week only the "bad thoughts" rice turned black!
Neither Greg nor the ISD administrator talked about the elephant in the
room, as its very politically sensitive: the real estate. A charter school
is provided $1,200 per student per year for real estate. About 2 years ago,
given a $16 million budget deficit, ISD 279 determined that Osseo Elementary
School, an older building with 335 students, was too expensive to operate
and closed the school.
Anger cannot even being to describe the reaction to the school closing by
the citizens of Osseo, who took great pride in their neighborhood elementary
school that children can walk to. Even though it was 60 years old, the
school is zoned residential and operated on a conditional use permit. The
Osseo City Council revoked the Conditional Use Permit when the school was
Parnassus approached District 279 a year ago and asked to rent the school.
District 279 said "no". On July 13th, 2010, the City of Osseo sent a
purchase agreement to District 279 to purchase the school for $3.75 million.
The City had run the numbers. The rent from Parnassus would cover the bond
payments. Plus, with the District whining about money, they could use the
revenue from the school sale to make improvements to other schools.
The day after receiving the offer the District 279 Superintendent sent
back the earnest money and said they have no interest in selling Osseo
Elementary. They now want to use the school to shift a program being run in
rented space. A program for 125 troubled teenagers. To this, another parent
commented "either they were lying then when they couldn't afford to operate
Osseo Elementary for 335 kids. Or they are lying now that they CAN afford to
operate it for 125. Plus the cost to renovate the bathrooms to accommodate
high school kids versus the little kid toilets that are there now."
The one 279 board member that wanted to accept the offer, Dean Henke, said
"I know a lot of board members have been using the phrase 'fiscally
responsible" about leases where we are talking about $350,000..{for the
troubled teen program} .It was the $16 million deficit which is resulted in
the need for the lease."
The City of Osseo has no intention of granting a Conditional Use Permit
for the troubled teen program at the vacant Osseo Elementary. This one may
land in court.
Lost in this real estate battle is how to best provide public education
for the children.

No comments:

Post a Comment