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|03-18-03: Board nixes charter school
|By TIMOTHY COX
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 New Bremen also has withdrawn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
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
"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
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
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
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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