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Vote may foretell school's chances.

Byline: Anne Williams The Register-Guard

The state Board of Education's rejection of a Corvallis charter school application could spell trouble for the Children's Peace Academy, which still hopes to open under state sponsorship as Eugene's fourth charter school.

In a 4-2 vote, the state board on June 26 upheld the Corvallis School Board's denial of the Harding Community Charter School, a K-8 school that expected an enrollment of about 170 its first year.

Corvallis board members said the charter school would present a "directly identifiable, significant, adverse impact" on the quality of education in regular district schools by luring away students and the state dollars that follow them. It was the same reason the Eugene School Board pointed to when it turned down an application from the Peace Academy four months ago.

With enrollment declining in both districts, Corvallis and Eugene board members - following recommendations from staff members - argued that existing elementary schools, some of them quite small, could not have kept programs and staffing intact if they lost even a handful more students.

Both Harding and the Peace Academy appealed to the state for sponsorship, an option allowed under the 1999 charter school law.

Peace Academy founder Wendy Strgar believes the state board's action flouts the charter school law, and said she's concerned about the precedent it sets.

"They're basically giving a message (to school districts) that if you decide you don't have the money, you don't have to approve it," she said.

Barbara Bull, one of the founders of the Harding School, said the group hasn't yet decided whether it will launch a legal fight or just revise its proposal and resubmit a new application to the district and, if necessary, the state board. Admitting defeat is an unlikely option, she said.

"We've had a lot of positive feedback," Bull said. "We've heard from advocates around the state who want to help."

State Board member Emilio Hernandez, who lives in Springfield, voted in favor of the Harding application, which he said was strong and met the criteria of the law.

"Financial burden is one of the options that a school district can use, but it's only one, and as far as everything else went, everything else fell into place," he said. "We seem to be setting a precedent in that way, and that's not what the law is about."

But most board members disagreed, and said that whatever benefits the school might bring would be outweighed by the fiscal impact.

State education officials emphasized that each application - including the Peace Academy's, which the state board has yet to see - will be reviewed on its merits.

"The impact versus the value to the district will each time be taken on a case-by-case basis," said Margaret Bates, a state education specialist who coordinates charter school issues. "I just can't agree that it's going to set a precedent. We don't just go, `Oh, it's a financial issue, so that's a done deal.' '

As a first step in Strgar's appeal process, a state-appointed mediator met separately last month with representatives from both the Peace Academy and the Eugene district. He told both sides he didn't believe that there was any point in continuing talks.

Next, after the state department receives the Peace Academy's formal application for sponsorship, the staff will review it and make a recommendation to the board, probably sometime in late summer.

The Peace Academy's program would center on teaching children how to live in harmony with their global and local communities and the natural world. The school had hoped to open this fall with 50 to 100 students in grades kindergarten through 8.

Strgar and supporters remain hopeful that they'll realize the vision for such a school, she said. It's needed now more than ever, she added.

"The Peace Academy still exists," she said. "We're very optimistic that there is some form this entity is supposed to take."

Charter schools, which have their own governing boards and are free of some of the policies regular schools must follow, receive 80 percent of the per-pupil allocation from the state for elementary and middle school students and 95 percent for high school students. Sponsoring districts keep the rest.

Eugene is home to two charter schools, with a third, the Network Charter School, set to open in the fall. There previously were three, but Pioneer Youth Corps Military Academy lost its bid for charter renewal.
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Title Annotation:With the state's denial of a Corvallis charter school plan, the hope for Eugene's Children's Peace Academy may dwindle; Schools
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 7, 2003
Words:733
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