Reader's View, North Star Charter: Meridian school board trustees undercut Idaho law

July 30, 2013 

The Legislature built accountability into charter school law.

Unlike other public schools, if a public charter school fails, it can be closed. But the decision to close a school is one of the most high-stakes decisions made in public education.

It is not one to be taken lightly. It must be considered and objective, based on verifiable data that is analyzed and weighed.

Idaho law is clear regarding the process for charter revocation. It ensures that the process of dissolution protects the affected students, both those in the charter school and in district schools, their families and the public trust. Before any final action is taken to revoke a charter, the authorizer must 1) communicate its “intent to revoke,” 2) hold a public hearing, and then — and only then — can it take action.

However, that is not what happened on June 25 when the Meridian Board of Trustees voted to “revoke” North Star Charter School’s charter.

No public input was sought. The board acted pre-emptively, sidelining all of the stakeholders. It did not feel like a district acting in the best interests of children. It felt like an illegal takeover bid in the corporate world.

Stakeholders found out about the decision on the local news at 9 o’clock.

Taxpayers didn’t have a chance to ask about the very real possibility of increased property taxes in September. Community leaders did not have a chance to provide input regarding the ripple effect such a closure would have on the local economy. Teachers and parents didn’t have a chance to share that their children are more than dollars and cents in a district budget.

There was no opportunity to ask important questions:

• Transition plan: Does the district have a plan to ensure that student transitions are smooth, particularly given the revocation timetable? How will the district communicate the decision to stakeholders, particularly children and parents?

• Impact on current students: How will the influx of 800-1,000 additional children impact students currently enrolled in overcrowded classrooms and schools? Will boundaries need to be redrawn? Will the district have adequate facilities, staffing and resources?

• Impact on taxpayers: How will property taxes be impacted? Will the district seek an emergency levy? Will increased student numbers make a facilities bond necessary? Will the already shaky financial situation in the district further erode?

• Impact on new students: Has the district done an assessment of the learning needs of the students enrolled at NSCS? How will the district ensure that specialized needs are met? What about seniors, will graduation be jeopardized?

• What’s the rush? The school has a solid educational program and a well-crafted short-term plan that it has negotiated with its bondholders for the 2013-14 school year. In addition, negotiations are currently underway to develop a long-term solution to facilities funding challenges. Why not take the time to seek public input and to design a transition plan that is in the best interests of all stakeholders?

But, the decision to “revoke” has been made.

Any public hearing at this point will only be going through the motions.

After that, I guess, MSD trustees will vote to “re-revoke?”

Shirley Rau teaches at North Star Charter School and is a former school choice coordinator with the Idaho Department of Education.

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