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03-12-03: Board may seek charter status
The Daily Standard

    NEW KNOXVILLE - Board of education members plan to vote at their Monday meeting on whether to apply to become a charter school, with one board member already supporting the move.
    "We have no ties by applying," New Knoxville board President Todd Spieles said at a Tuesday night special board meeting that was attended by about 75 residents. "I know there are still unanswered questions, but we can apply and check things later. If it turns out not to be beneficial, we can elect not to go with it."
    The issue of converting to a charter school, also known as a community school, first surfaced at a Minster meeting last week, when officials announced Minster, New Bremen and New Knoxville were looking to switch to charter schools. Minster officials seem to be moving forward with plans to apply for the move, while New Bremen school officials this week seemed to back down.
    Some superintendents believe the switch to a charter school would result in more state funding for school systems and less reliance on local tax dollars. Deb Munis, Auglaize County Educational Service Center director of special services, said the local schools could experience a 25-to-50 percent jump in state funding if they become charter schools. New Knoxville would experience a $774,000 increase in state funding for the 2003-2004 school year, she said.
    "Even if we apply, we are under no obligation to start a charter school," New Knoxville Superintendent Rod Russell told the crowd at the Tuesday meeting. "We have nothing to lose by applying ... We are looking for ways to enhance our education here. So many charter schools are failing across the state. I can only even begin to think of what a school district that is already successful like ours could do with more funding."
    Resident Michelle Katter-heinrich asked if there was any guarantee that the money would be available if the board chose to switch to a charter school.
    "No, there isn't any guarantee," Russell said. "But it is not any different than what we have now. Legislation just took $24,000 out of our budget that we had budgeted for the rest of the school year. On a whim, the legislature can promise that and then take it back."
    Russell said if the school switched to a charter system, the district would function as a dual identity, both public and charter. State law requires the district still operate a public school so parents have a choice.
    He also addressed athletics and receiving diplomas.
    The Ohio High School Athletic Association says students need to be enrolled in one public school class in order to participate in athletics at a public school, Russell said.
    "We simply could set up the first period of the day for seventh through 12th grades as English class. The rest of the day would then be contracted as a charter school. We would simply change policy to say credits from the charter school could be accepted as credits for graduation from the public school district," Russell said.
    Russell said that while a charter governing board would have to be formed, the local school board would still retain power over all decisions. He said charter members would be appointed, and could even be school administrative workers.
    "Right now the plan is just to get the names from administrators on the application so we can get it in before the deadline (April 6)," Russell said. "We can have these board members on for a day, a year, or whatever we decide. We could change it later. In a worst case scenario, say we had somebody on this board that wanted to spend all the money as soon as we got it. The school board could step in and say 'huh-uh.' "
    Russell added that the local districts are looking at the move only
because of unfair funding practices for school funding in the state.
    "The way it is set up, you are punished for being a successful school district," Russell said. "There is too much reliability on property taxes, and richer school districts are treated unfairly. The Ohio Department of Education is supposed to be cheering us on, but instead they say what is good for charter schools is not good for us. We are attempting to beat the system." Munis said the announcement has caused state officials to address the charter school laws.
    "It is possible that new laws will be put in place to prevent this before it could be done," Munis said. "But if this gets them going and forces them to look at the school funding issue, it will be worth the while."


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