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Charter school proponents want more say before decision.

Byline: Anne Williams The Register-Guard

CORRECTION (ran 2/13/03): A story on page D1 Tuesday mischaracterized the nature of Field of Dreams Middle School's appeal to the state. School founder Susan Gillis, who had applied for a charter from the Eugene School District, is asking the State Board of Education to consider sponsoring her school.

Local charter school proponents want to weigh in on the Eugene School District's assessment of the financial impact of their schools.

But they won't get a chance at a Wednesday work session exploring the topic - a fact that isn't sitting well with some of them.

"What I was hoping was to have an opportunity to provide them more feedback," said Andy Peara, a Eugene charter school consultant and one of eight co-signers to a Feb. 4 e-mail letter to the district asking for just that.

Jim Slemp, assistant superintendent for policy and administration, said anyone may submit written comments afterward, but that no public testimony will be taken at Wednesday's session.

"That's a time for the board to discuss the issue," Slemp said.

Instead of a written report going out in advance, Slemp said, the board will see a slide presentation and hear from a panel of elementary school principals and parents about how their schools have been affected by existing charter schools.

Charter schools are publicly funded, receiving at least 80 percent of the state's per-pupil allocation. The sponsoring school district keeps the remainder. They are largely independent, with their own governing boards, and are free of some of the policies that apply to regular public schools.

The district is home to three charter schools - The Village School, which serves grades kindergarten through 7; Ridgeline Montessori Public Charter School, which serves K through 6; and Pioneer Youth Corps Military Academy, for middle and high school students. All of them opened in 2000, a year after the Legislature passed the law allowing charter schools.

Three more are in the pipeline, one of which - the Children's Peace Academy - has been waiting since fall for an answer to its charter request.

Citing the increasingly cloudy fiscal outlook, the board in October sought permission from the Department of Education to delay the decision on the Peace Academy application until this month. That vote is scheduled for Feb. 26, the next board meeting after this week's work session.

Peace Academy founder Wendy Strgar said that doesn't give her much time to respond to information and discussion from Wednesday's work session. With first the long delay and now this, she said, she believes the district is sending signals that it wants no more charter schools.

"I think it's really unfortunate," said Strgar, who has also submitted an application to the Bethel School District, which will review it only if Eugene turns it down. "Charter schools were designed to create competition among schools so the level of quality goes up so that people will have their needs met. Making another choice available is the mark of a healthy district."

School board members have said they're leery of additional charter schools, particularly ones serving elementary grades, given the district's falling elementary enrollment, abundance of small schools and reduced state funding. That's especially true after last month's failure of Ballot Measure 28, a temporary income tax increase that would have lessened cuts.

The approval process for the other two would-be charter schools has also moved slowly because the district initially found their applications incomplete. The Network Charter School, a consortium of seven educational nonprofit organizations that would serve grades 6 through 12, turned in its application last fall, and is still trying to satisfy district requirements in hopes of opening in September.

An application for Field of Dreams Middle School was deemed so incomplete that its founder, Susan Gillis, was told to try again next year. Also hoping to open her school in September, Gillis is challenging the district's refusal to consider her application.

Peara said the Network Charter's application was probably as complete as any in the state, and he questioned the district's interpretation.

"The completeness rule (in state statute) was aimed at stopping the four-page, back of the envelope application," said Peara, who is also director of Nearby Nature, one of the Network Charter organizations. "In this case the district is delaying some pretty serious applications."

Slemp said the state administrative rule says a charter application can't "minimally address" or omit any of the required components. After approving the first three charter schools, the district amended its own charter school policy to make it more in line with the state law and thereby tougher on incomplete applications, he said.

CHARTER SCHOOL

WORK SESSION

Eugene School Board: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Education Center, 200 N. Monroe St. 687-3309.

CAPTION(S):

E d u c a t i o n Paul Carter / The Register-Guard Chance Smith, 8, reaches to the top of a tower of wooden blocks at Ridgeline Montessori School in south Eugene Monday. Schools: Eugene board looks at charter school applications Continued from Page D1
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Title Annotation:The Eugene School Board is holding a work session on Wednesday; Schools
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 11, 2003
Words:835
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