by Ethan Stewart
With parents organizing to propose a charter school in the Hope Elementary School District, officials held an impromptu informational hearing Monday night with a Los Angeles-based lawyer who specializes in charter-school policies. Howard Friedman — who has represented school districts for nearly 30 years — answered questions from dozens of parents who view the possibility of a charter school in the predominately white, ultra-successful, cash-strapped Hope district as a very bad thing. Offering up a mixed bag of good and bad news, Friedman painted a picture in which the group of charter hopefuls — known as the Community Charter Group — could, if they meet all the state mandates, force a charter school upon a district that clearly would not welcome it. For Hope District to be legally bound to provide a site for the new school, Friedman explained, the group would need signatures of intent from either half of the parents of the proposed school’s student body or half the would-be teachers, and then 80 signatures of parents with children already living in the district.
Though the Community Charter Group has not even begun to collect signatures, there was no shortage of ill will Monday night among Hope School board members and the nearly 100 parents in attendance. At the core of the concern is the district’s recent economically motivated decision to deny out-of-district transfers — a move that flies in the face of Hope’s storied history of middle-class white transfers — and speculation that the charter movement is an attempt by parents to circumnavigate the new policy. The policy change would allow the district to qualify for basic aid funding — which derives from district property taxes — rather than the more traditional state funding based on average daily attendance numbers. While basic-aid status would allow the district to keep more money in-house, the opening of a charter school — which would require the district to allow students from all over to attend — would diminish the essentially fixed pot of district funding. As Hope board member Steve Weintraub — who urged parents to rally against the charter plan, calling it “us vs. them” — put it, “The reality is that a charter represents a definitive financial threat to our district.”
According to Charter Group spokesperson Angie Dukes, the charter school discussion began last June, some eight months before Hope’s transfer decision, and they have “no intention” of specifically targeting Hope as their new home. Acknowledging the financial hardships of putting a charter school in a basic-aid district, Dukes explained, “It’s not about the Hope District and their transfer policy … We are looking for a different educational experience, and for that we need to keep all our options open.”