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City schools might share their money with charters
Home » City schools might share their money with charters
Posted on June 8, 2012
By Bill Bush
The Columbus Dispatch Friday June 8, 2012 7:28 AM
Columbus City Schools would share local property-tax money with some charter schools under a plan put forward by Superintendent Gene Harris yesterday.
“It’s sharing money with high-performing schools for a purpose,” Harris said. “And the purpose would be to help us to innovate in a way with schools that have not made the progress that we know that they can.”
Harris proposed letting high-performing charters and other non-district schools form partnerships with low-performing district schools. That’s a major departure for a district that even a former member of its own board once accused of being hostile to charters.
What’s in it for the charters? “Money,” Harris said, describing a concept in which charters could profit for sharing their concepts and strategies.
Harris wouldn’t provide dollar amounts that could be at stake, saying the district is still working on the proposal.
The idea surfaced as part of a slate of promises the district might make in return for voter approval of a levy in November. Business leaders on the 14-member millage panel applauded the break with tradition to include charter schools, while two school-board members at the table greeted it with silence.
“I was not surprised by it,” school board President Carol Perkins said after the meeting. “There’s no idea that’s out there that we’re going to take off the table.
“This was just the beginning of the discussion of what the district is looking at,” she said.
Perkins said the idea emerged recently, after Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson pushed a plan to share levy money with charter schools in that city.
Jackson’s plan is awaiting a vote at the Statehouse next week. It would go much further than Harris’ proposal, actually sharing new levy money with charters on a per-capita basis, said Bill Sims, head of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
“I think the Cleveland plan has become an inspiration,” Sims said. “I think it’s pretty hard to ignore what’s happening there.”
Sims said he is surprised and encouraged by Harris’ plan but would like to see the details. Since the Columbus proposal is akin to hiring a consultant, it probably won’t require changes to state law. But if it did, the legislature likely would take it up, Sims predicted.
Whether such a plan could help Columbus with voters remains to be seen. While charter-school supporters might applaud the plan, charter opponents could boycott the levy, Sims said.
Rhonda Johnson, president of the Columbus teachers union, doesn’t oppose the move, saying she doesn’t view the proposal as sharing local revenue. “I’m not seeing it that way at all,” Johnson said. “I saw it as collaborating and partnering with charter schools to help the lower-performing public schools.”
Harris defines high-performing charters as those getting an A or B on the state report card and demonstrating “evidence that they know how to get high performance,” Harris said.
Currently, 17 charter schools operating in central Ohio — not including statewide, online schools — would meet that standard. Under a proposed tougher grading system, 10 charters would qualify.'
“It’s the ultimate in evidence-based,” Harris said. “You’ve got a school that has shown that they can take students with the same demographics and make great gains.”
In other levy business, Harris proposed continuing the district’s school-rebuilding program with a levy request to fund one high school, one middle school and three elementary buildings. But members of the committee suggested that the district should add more new schools to that plan to take advantage of record-low interest rates.
“The committee felt today that the five-school recommendation was really a minimal recommendation,” said co-chairman Chad Jester. “We can’t ignore the cost to the district, and this seems to be a very appropriate time to move forward.”
The district released no cost estimates for the next segment of the building plan.
Other potential levy promises Harris proposed yesterday include expanding preschool programs, achieving a 90 percent graduation rate and reducing “budget growth.”
Dispatch reporter Jennifer Smith Richards contributed to this story.