Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Charter School Act Assailed by TPS Board

A Tulsa Public School Board meeting was held last evening at 7:00 p.m. in the education service center at 31st and New Haven. At the outset, it was a packed, standing room only meeting. Anxious parents clutched their children as the meeting began with the opening flag ceremony, then quickly progressed to a series of songs from Kerr Elementary 4 year olds. This was to highlight the early childhood education initiative by TPS. When this was finished about a fourth of the crowd dispersed. Next was an extensive presentation by the Booker T. Washington and Memorial H.S. Bot Ball and robotics programs. Selected board members stood and moved to gain a better vantage point to observe the mock competition. Afterward, more people trickled out.
Next came a group of articulate concerned citizens who stood at the podium speaking directly to the board. The first gentleman spoke about the need for a "change agent" as the main criteria for the selection of the next Superintendent of TPS (Dr. Sawyer is retiring in June). He was followed by three who spoke generally about the continued deplorable conditions and substandard results from the north side public schools. The last of the group noted how nothing has changed in the past 30 years. Some board members never made eye contact, heads down, either listening intently to what was being said, or lost in their own thoughts.
This last picture was taken after the vote was taken on the agenda action item F-4. About two-thirds of the people in attendance came to hear about this action item concerning charter schools. After the vote the room cleared out.

The resolution in question would have shortened the contract extension period from 3 years to 1 year for both Deborah Brown Community School and Dove Science Academy. It would limit the contract to one year for two new charter school applicants. And it would place a self-imposed moratorium for any other charter schools.

Doug Mann, attorney for TPS spoke at length on the matter. It was a highly technical speech and hard to follow. He believes the Oklahoma Charter School Act, passed by our legislature in 1999 is unconstitutional, because it is a special law affecting public education. He is worried that an unrelated case involving the City of Enid and unions could have a bearing on the charter school law.

Mr. Mann was followed by a host of pro-charter school speakers, representing all three of Tulsa's charter schools, Deborah Brown Community School, Dove Science Academy, and Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences. Some used the time to eulogize their school, some to rail against the board for such late notice on an important topic (They were notified late afternoon on Friday. Two of the schools have been in contract renewal negotiations for months). One particularly memorable speaker was Judge Merle Whitebook, board president for Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences. He passionately requested the board of TPS to think of the children and parents who will be affected, and the choice charter schools provide the TPS district, the "district of choice". He urged the board to table the resolution.

After exhausting questions and comments, an amended resolution was unanimously passed. It allowed for a three year extension for the 2 renewing charters with an opt-out clause in case the Act was declared unconstitutional. It also allowed for one-year contracts for the new charter applicants, and provided a moratorium beginning in February 2007 on any new charter school applications, until the constitutionality question is resolved.

What seemed to be lost in the rhetoric and grandstanding was this; the Oklahoma Charter School Act of 1999 is not unconstitutional. It is and has been the law in Oklahoma since 1999. 13 charter schools have been opened and currently operate under it in 2 school districts, Tulsa and OKC. To be unconstitutional, it would have to be challenged and held so by a court.

It would not be held as unconstitutional if the City of Enid case was held to be so. For that to happen, someone, namely TPS or the Oklahoma City school distict would have to take the State of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Department of Education to court. But in my research, OKC has never advanced the charter school act to be unconstitutional. But TPS has.

The did so back in 2002 during a dispute with Pentagon Academy, a failed charter school applicant. You can read all about the dispute here. Pay particular attention to paragraph 15. In essence, the Oklahoma Supreme Court did not rule on the TPS allegation of the unconstitutionality of the Oklahoma Charter School Act, because it already found for TPS on statutory grounds related to binding arbitration. They could have ruled on it, but passed. Or more likely didn't rule on it because they didn't have to.

TPS acts as if the Act is unconstitutional. As a result Tulsa has been stuck on three charter schools since 2001. All three have proven to be exemplary schools. OKC on the other hand acts as if the Act is constitutional. As a result they have ten charter schools.

Which district is better served by its actions?


Anne Hutchinson said...

Seems to me the solution is to fix the law and take TPS out of the loop rather than criticizing them for what you believe to be an anti-charter attitude. No amount of posturing can prevent the TPS Board from filing a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the Charter School Law. And it sounds like they intend to do so.

If they do so and the law is upheld then you remove from them this basis for reluctance.

If they do and the law is ruled unconstitutional as they assert, then where will charter schools be? Shut down completely is where.

By involving the legislature to fix the law, you can remove the problem from TPS's hands and control. By ignoring their arguments (whether you agree or not), charters face an even greater uncertainty. Stop whining about TPS and FIX THE LAW!

I suspect the reluctance to confront the law's defects is that the legislature will not appreciate being asked to put up or shut up about the "value" of charter schools statewide.

By ignoring the denial of access to charter schools in other districts, whose students are better served by your complaining?

J Morrison said...

It appeared to me that the last item in the resolution gave the authority to challenge the law as unconsitutional to the TPS Board President, was this a part of the final resolution?

Anonymous said...

To answer your question, yes.

Anonymous said...

What irks me is the fact that just because my family happens to live in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in South Tulsa (Minshall Park), my son is getting continually passed over on the waiting list for Thoreau because TPS says they must let more students in the 'other' "quadrants" of Tulsa (North Tulsa, West Tulsa, etc.) get first pick whether they want to attend Thoreau or not. We went through the lottery drawing months ago and somehow he is still "number 6" on the waiting list, due to the fact they have to give a ton of those 'other' kids first choice over him- (EVEN though they are much further behind on the waiting list!!!!). This is complete utter bullshit, and, fortunately, after going back to school to study law and obtaining multiple degrees, it is my pet project now to do whatever it takes-however long it takes- to get this absurd policy/law/whatever changed....just for the sheer fun of it. If every student/person in this planet is supposed to be EQUAL, treated EQUAL, what the hell is going on here?? I'll tell you--- just a bunch of pussy ass idiots at TPS who, in the next 1-2 years, will just have to actually start putting in a full day of work now and then and ACCEPT the fact this current policy/law B.S. way of doing things WILL be changed. There are so many laws that can be utilized to change this reverse discrimination crap, the research and info I continue to uncover would make anyone puke. BUT, it will be changed, that I can promise you.... Angela Kidd, lifelong Tulsan, Tulsa, Okla, 496-2026