A proposed guideline for charter operators’ use of buildings owned by Shelby County Schools just scratches the surface toward addressing one of the most costly aspects of running a charter school.
The school system’s Charter Advisory Committee wants the criteria for charter access to start with student achievement and alignment with district priorities.
But the panel’s recommendations don’t touch on shared services for building maintenance and how the district prioritizes capital funds, an issue that emerged this year when a leaky roof impacted students in Libertas School of Memphis, a state-run charter school housed in a district-run building in Frayser.
The school board is scheduled to vote Tuesday night on the Charter Advisory Committee’s recommendations that also include proposals to levy a management fee on charter operators and to establish a process for revoking charters from operators who aren’t meeting minimum expectations.
Navigating facilities issues are among the thorniest challenges for stakeholders in need of ground rules for Memphis’ growing charter sector. About a fourth of Shelby County Schools are now charter schools, and the district also is the landlord to some charter operators in the state-run Achievement School District.
At last week’s work session, several school board members said the proposed guidelines aren’t specific enough. And Rodney Moore, the district’s general counsel and chief legal officer, voiced “serious concerns” about the legality of some, though he didn’t offer specifics.
But Chairman Chris Caldwell said the board should treat the proposed guidelines as guiding principles.
“These would not be binding, but they certainly would be serious considerations we can go and incorporate in our final product and reflect on,” Caldwell said. “But I think that too much hard work has been done, too much good work has been done, to do anything that would stall this effort.”
State law does not provide specifics in working with charter operators on facilities but does require local districts to make available “underutilized and vacant properties” without disrupting a district’s plan for the property.
The facilities proposal is mostly based on a policy in Denver, which considers a charter operators’ past academic performance, student enrollment, and the district’s overall facility planning when approving or denying an operator’s request to use district buildings.
Since the district does not have a formal mechanism to establish such priorities, the proposal calls for the creation of an assessment to show what academic needs are prevalent in different parts of the city. The assessment would help rank which charter schools should have access to district buildings based on the building condition, expected building utilization rate, school performance, program needs and parent demand.