It’s time for PIE to work with district on charter school

People Involved in Education, the group that runs Sand Ridge Charter School and wants to start a similar school in Sweet Home, has appealed to the state this week seeking state sponsorship for a charter school in Sweet Home.

This maneuver is nothing more than the culmination of lawyers arguing over legal semantics and an unwillingness to negotiate on the part PIE.

This charter school would offer a choice to a limited number of Sweet Home families, allowed into the school by lottery. This is a tiny step in the right direction for schools. Competition is good for schools. Choice is good for the children and families who use the service.

We are not saying that our local public schools are bad. We are simply saying that the alternatives provided by a charter school will help local education. This school should happen one way or another.

What the District 55 School Board has asked of PIE is reasonable. The district’s attorney, Peter Dassow, says it has a real and meaningful purpose protecting the district and the new charter school from potential lawsuits. The board is demanding that PIE form a new corporation to operate the school.

So PIE is going to take its marbles and go play with the state. PIE President Jay Jackson says the School Board has given the charter school a “poison pill.”

Jackson rightly points out a logic problem in the district’s demand: The district has approved a charter school proposal with PIE. But when it says it now wants this contract to be with some other entity, that means that PIE is negotiating a contract with which it has nothing to do. Somehow Jackson, who represents PIE, is supposed to represent some nonexistent entity.

Dassow says this isn’t a problem. PIE can negotiate the contract, sign it and then form the new corporation to take over daily operation of the school.

PIE wants to use its name for securing loans. If another corporation were running the school, it would have a more difficult time getting financing for building because it has no track record.

But the school will be housed at the Church of Christ at 18th and Long. The school won’t need a new building for at least the first year, possibly longer. That gives a new corporation time to build a name. We can set aside this argument against the district’s proposal. Under one potential business model, it won’t matter.

The board isn’t asking PIE to create a new corporation and sever all ties to it. The board’s decision last week to require the new corporation was confusing, but Chairman Scott Proctor cleared it up, explaining that the structure of the new corporation and its relationship to PIE were still open to negotiation.

That means that the new corporation could be a subsidiary of PIE, still granting a layer of protection to the school district and the Sweet Home Charter School.

On the surface, that seems like it’s really just PIE running things and leaves the district and Sweet Home school as open to the same litigation as if PIE were running the school directly. Dassow insists that it makes things more difficult for a plaintiff against a PIE school in another district. If it provides the protection he claims it does, this idea is really a boon to PIE and the charter schools anyway. If it doesn’t, PIE loses nothing in the deal.

If the district wanted complete protection, it would demand a completely new corporation, without ties to PIE, to run the school; but that’s not what the board demanded.

The difference between what PIE wants and the district wants here isn’t really that big. Establishing a new corporation is actually quite simple. It offers a measure of protection to the district and the new school, and it still leaves PIE at the wheel. If this is the only impediment to a deal, it isn’t much.

Yes, the board’s explanations of this requirement have been confusing. Everyone seems to be beating around the bush in public session about what they want. Communication lines appear mangled, but Proctor spelled it out last week. Dassow did it again on Monday, something the board should have had him do much earlier in this process.

With its unbending opposition to this requirement, PIE is establishing poor relations at the start with its charter school sponsor.

One or more district board members may be going along with this grudgingly, but they’re going along with it like it or not.

If PIE really wants to play nice with the district, if PIE is really interested in making a charter school happen in Sweet Home, it’s time for PIE to be agreeable and go along with it too. If it did, this charter school could happen, and that’s the best outcome for everyone.