Denver’s first school board in recent history, which was fully supported by the teachers’ union, renewed the district’s contracts with 16 charter schools on Thursday, although some members expressed concern with independent public schools.
Chairman Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán was the only seven members of the board to vote “no” to renew charter agreements, although Vice President Tay Anderson called his “yes” restrained. Board member Scott Baldermann voted in favor of the renewal, but said the board should conduct a “full overhaul” of its charter renewal policy.
It was among the first major board decisions since three new members were elected in November, including Gaytan. All seven members are now united in their criticism of education reform, a set of strategies favored by previous school boards, including closing schools in difficulty and expanding networks of high-performance charter schools. The teachers’ union has also criticized charter schools, which are publicly funded but run independently.
But most board members spoke neutrally on Thursday about the charter schools, neither praising nor condemning them. They said they trust Superintendent Alex Marrer’s recommendation to renew charter agreements for a period of two to five years, depending on the strength of academic performance, culture and financial health (see box).
Several board members mentioned the declining number of enrolled Denver Public Schools and thanked the charter community for their recent commitment to a nationwide process to establish criteria for closing or consolidating small schools. Anderson said in an interview that he planned to vote against some renewals, but changed his mind after charter schools agreed to participate in consolidation talks.
“For me personally, it was my line in the sand,” he said. “When I saw them trying to say in good faith, ‘We’re willing to come to the table,’ it said a lot to me.”
Denver schools are funded according to how many students they have. Previously, high school numbers have facilitated support for a large number of schools, including new charter schools, but now Denver is facing financial pressure to close small schools. While some charter schools were already closed because they had too few students, some community members said it was wrong to consider closing district-run schools without looking at charters from the same perspective.
However, the school board cannot close charter schools solely for enrollment reasons, as is the case with district-run schools. This decision is up to the charter schools themselves.
Carol Bowar is the founder of Girls Athletic Leadership School, a charter high school in West Denver, and serves on the District Cooperation Council, a group that is committed to. She said the council had been talking for months about participating in consolidation talks and that her recent agreement was not directly related to the renewal vote, although charters hoped the move would build the confidence of the new board.
Charter schools have so far agreed to participate in a committee that would develop common criteria for when to close under-enrolled schools. They demanded that 23% of committee members come from charter schools because 23% of Denver’s 90,000 students attend charters and that all committee members understand how charters work.
“We hope that demonstrating our commitment to this neighborhood, the family of schools we are part of, and our working together to make the entire DPS a great place for all our students, will allow you to vote in favor of the recommended renewals. with more peace of mind, “Bowar told the school board on Tuesday during a special public comment session on the renewal of the charter.
For 3.5 hours on Tuesday, board members heard students, parents, teachers and principals who asked the board to renew their schools’ charter agreements.
Eighth grader Lubombo Jedidia Kabeya talked about how her elementary school, Compass Academy, treated students carefully, kindly and respectfully. She told the board about the time she had sat alone in the dining room in sixth grade and the dean had arrived.
“She was sitting next to me and asked me one question, ‘Are you all right?'” Said the eighth grade student. “No one in my old school has ever bothered to ask such a simple question. For the first time, I felt that I was finally desirable and necessary in the community. “
Sahar Ebrahima, an eighth grade student at Girls Athletic Leadership School, said her teachers encourage students to use their voices, even if they are reluctant at first.
“Everyone attends our school and everyone is seen and appreciated,” she said.
In Thursday’s vote against Gaytán’s recovery, she said she was not pushing back against students and parents who love their particular charter schools. Instead, she criticized charter schools more generally, especially what she called “corporate charter networks” for draining students and funding from district schools, denying their teachers arbitration, and “not playing by the same rules as neighboring schools.”
Gaytán said she struggled to vote and thanked her six colleagues on the board for voting yes, so that she had a “safe place” to express her frustration and vote no. Should the Denver Council reject the charter school’s renewal, the school could appeal to the State Board of Education, which was supportive of the charters. But Gaytan said denying recovery, closing schools and sending confused families “is not the answer right now.”
“This is not a council that is cruel and heartless,” Gaytán said, “but rather a council that seeks to incorporate justice into the politics we are writing. We are all determined to do work to protect public education [and] strengthen district schools. “