Houston ISD trustee Carol Mims Galloway made it very clear at Thursday's school board meeting that she isn't all that happy with the district riding to the rescue of the kids at the failed charter school, Benji's Academy by putting them in another charter school.
District 2 in northeast Houston is already under water in a lot of ways with declining enrollments and plans to close two nearby schools at year's end, she said. So why is HISD helping move as many as 600 kids into another competing charter school instead of into some of its own classrooms where there's plenty of space?
"I was not too pleased about this," Galloway said. "Any time we create more charters it takes away from community schools."
Her concern ratcheted up several notches when she was told during the meeting that the charter where the students are headed has applied to the state for an expansion of its enrollment to 3,000 students.
"I can tell you that based on what I was told by the representatives of the charter schools that they are requesting a 3,000 student cap on their charter," Superintendent Terry Grier said. "I think they have 133 students in their current program. Apparently they have some pretty bold plans for expansion."
Grier said he proposed using HISD classrooms to TEA Commissioner Robert Scott but was turned down. Instead when the Fifth Ward school which housed kids from elementary through high school incurred severe financial problems, Scott wanted another charter to take the kids so that most of the students could stay together, Grier said.
"I offered to make space available in our schools; that was not acceptable," Grier said.
Students who want to will be incorporated into a newly (greatly) expanded High School for Business and Economic Success run by the Management Accountability Corp., which contracts with HISD. The school, which will now take in pre-K through 12th grade, will be under HISD control for just one year before becoming a state charter, answerable only to the Texas Education Agency.
Galloway wasn't the only one with concerns about the Benji's acquisition. Apparently no one is quite sure how many students actually attend the school now -- it may be as many as 600, maybe not -- and Grier said there were problems with identifying students in need of special ed services.
"Many of these children have not been tested for special ed," Grier said, without which they can't be included in those classes. He is sending a team of his (depleted) Special Education department to the school to oversee assessments of Benji students, but in response to a board question he said this wouldn't take away services from other HISD students.
"I think we ought to look into records, ought to see how kids are being classified. We don't know what's there," trustee Harvin Moore said.
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Trustee Manuel Rodriguez, who joined Galloway in voting against the measure when it came to a 5-2 vote (trustee Paula Harris missed the board meeting), expressed concerns that the expanded charter "can recruit and take students from our schools." He also wanted to make sure HISD would be reimbursed for any costs associated with overseeing the charter for a year and Grier said Scott had assured him they would be.
Trustee Anna Eastman spoke up in support of the deal, saying parents deserved the right to school choice and trustee Larry Marshall said the district should "do it for the kids."
Galloway said the takeover had been rushed. " I don't like the commissioner expediting a charter. The district had no say in the matter. Once again you're affecting the northeast area, one of the poorest in the city of Houston.
"The community has had no chance to have input. I don't think my community should have to pay and my schools should have to not survive," Galloway concluded.