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03-18-03: Board nixes charter school
The Daily Standard

    NEW KNOXVILLE - Citing slim chances of success, New Knoxville Local Schools officials have rejected a plan to pursue charter school status.
    The district, along with those in Minster and New Bremen, had considered using a loophole in the law to their advantage to draw more state funding by starting a charter school, also called community schools. New Bremen also has withdrawn from the fight, leaving only Minster to face what local and state officials say will be a fierce legal battle.
    New Knoxville school board members had been poised to approve a contract to form a charter school. But in the past couple of days, pressure from state officials has mounted and some local supporters have begun to waiver, board President Dr. Todd Spieles said.
    Spieles said state Sen. Jim Jordan and state Rep. Derrick Seaver both have expressed support for the local schools' philosophical battle, but both legislators also made it clear state officials would never allow the plan to happen. If the schools persist, they could even face a lawsuit from the Ohio Attorney General's office, board members said.
    The potential financial windfall of creating a charter school made the idea look promising at first, Spieles said. In the end, though, the money might not be worth the fight, he said.
    "A protracted legal case would really hurt the image of our school district and could cost an immeasurable amount of money," Spieles said.
    Board members voted 4-1 against moving forward with the plan. Only board member Brent Henschen supported the issue.
    "I am willing to give it a shot," Henschen said.
    Others reiterated fears of an impossible fight with the state Department of Education and the state Legislature.
    "They're working hard to close this loophole," board member Craig Leffel said.
    Leffel also noted the district would have to retain a local public school district even if a charter school was launched. With conflicting information surrounding the issue, it is difficult to tell if the district would come out ahead financially even if the state acquiesced, he said.
    The lack of solid information and the lack of answers to scores of questions also prevented the New Knoxville Education Association from supporting the issue.
    "We have decided to neither support it nor reject it," association President Linda Tebbe said prior to the board's vote. "Daily I'm hit with three or four different questions from staff that I don't know the answers to."
    Tebbe said teachers worried that a lengthy battle over the charter issue could hurt morale, causing teachers to leave the district or hampering local efforts to recruit new teachers.
    Board member Phil Kuck also voted against the issue due to fears the issue could negatively affect the district.
    "I would certainly hate to jeopardize everything we've done to this point," Kuck said. "We've got a good thing going here, and this is a big risk."
    Kuck also grumbled about the decade-long debacle of Ohio's school funding system. The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled four times on the original DeRolph case that sparked the issue that the state's funding mechanism is unconstitutional. Despite the court rulings, there have been no sweeping changes.
    "There's more DeRolph cases than 'Die Hard' movies," Kuck said.
    New Knoxville originally was against the state House bill that created the charter school process that was aimed at providing an alternative to communities with failing schools. In fact, Superintendent Rod Russell even testified at the Statehouse against the bill before it finally was passed and became law.
    That led New Knoxville and other local school officials to question whether they could get a piece of the charter school financial pie, even though they are academically successful.
    While the law by some interpretations allows the local schools to spawn community schools, the feasibility of doing so is another thing. First and foremost, the state currently is dealing with a budget crisis and there would be no money available to provide additional funding to local charter schools.
    "It's a chance we would take and probably not be successful," board member Stan Reineke said.


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