Who Is In Charge

Jeffco rejection of Lotus charter stands

The State Board of Education Wednesday deadlocked on an appeal filed by the Lotus School for Excellence II, a charter organization that wanted to open a science and math school in Jefferson County.

The Jefferson County school board rejected the Lotus application last October and had turned down a previous application in 2008. Lotus, which operates a middle-school charter in the Aurora school district, appealed the 2009 decision to the state board, as is allowed under state charter laws.

The state board’s inability to reach a decision means the ruling by the Jeffco school board stands.

In documents filed with the board, and in arguments by lawyer Allen Taggert Wednesday, the school district argued that Lotus hadn’t demonstrated adequate academic performance at its 242-student Aurora school, expressed concerns about the level of parent involvement in Lotus operations and said Lotus’ high student attrition rate raised questions about financial viability.

Lotus argued that Jeffco misinterpreted student achievement data and also disagreed with the district’s claims about parent involvement and student attrition.

Data from the Department of Education’s SchoolView website shows that the Lotus Aurora school has lower-than-average math test scores but higher-than-average student growth.

The state board first deadlocked 3-3 on a motion to reject the appeal. Three Democratic members, Elaine Gantz Berman, Jane Goff and Angelika Schroeder voted yes while Republicans Peggy Littleton, Bob Schaffer and Marcia Neal voted no. The vote was reversed on a motion to return the case to the Jeffco board, with Republicans voting yes and Democrats voting no. Republican member Randy DeHoff wasn’t present for the vote.

Schaffer, SBE chair, argued that parent interest was a more important factor in granting a charter than the wishes of a government agency such as the school board. Lotus reportedly had more than 230 parent letters of interest in the Jeffco school last year. Jeffco currently has 13 charter schools.

Lotus opened its Aurora school in 2003.  A year ago the Aurora school board conditionally renewed the charter for three years but imposed extra financial reporting requirements on the school. (See Aurora Sentinel story about that decision.)

Last November the St. Vrain Valley school board unanimously rejected an application by Lotus to open a charter school at a church in Longmont.

Go here for links to documents filed by both parties in the Jeffco case.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.