Officials wait for ruling on charter school funds

Judge likely to decide this week on amount city to pay per student

Metro

News from around the Baltimore region

August 23, 2005|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore Circuit Court judge will likely rule this week on whether the city school system will have to funnel thousands of additional dollars to charter schools for each student who chooses to enroll in the publicly funded but independent schools.

Judge Edward R.K. Hargadon heard arguments from charter and city school officials yesterday, as the two sides clashed over a Maryland State Board of Education ruling made in May.

The state board ruled that the city school system must pay City Neighbors Charter School and Patterson Park Public Charter School - both set to open this school year - nearly $11,000 per student, an amount it deemed to be equivalent to the money spent on children in traditional public schools, minus expenses on facilities.

The board later amended its ruling to require the two charter schools to return 2 percent of their funding to the system for administrative services.

The ruling could have significant implications as charter schools around the state begin to open, two years after enabling legislation was passed. The city has received about 12 applications for charter schools, and seven schools have applied to convert to charter schools.

City school officials are willing to contribute funds to charter schools, but they argue that the state formula would force them to pay a disproportionate amount.

In appealing the state board's decision, the attorney for Baltimore's school system, Warren N. Weaver, argued that charter school funding is a local policy issue and should not be up to the state board. He criticized the state's process of conducting two 15-minute hearings - calling it "rule-making on the fly" - and said that the city schools were denied due process.

"There was no fact-finding of any sort," said Weaver. "The school board took no evidence, it received no evidence ... and all of a sudden we get a ruling on the merits."

Weaver expressed doubt about the funding figures compiled by the state, saying they include money for special education regardless of whether a student is eligible for such funding. The recommendation, he noted, exceeded even the funding requests from the charter schools.

But attorneys for the charter schools defended the state board's decision, arguing that the state's funding model pertained to an average school. If a school's composition consisted of fewer special-education students, for example, the school would receive less money, they said.

"Behind all of this is a state law, and the state has been given the authority to interpret it," said Will DuBois, an attorney for City Neighbors Charter School in Northeast Baltimore. Richard C. Daniels, an attorney for Patterson Park Public Charter School, maintained that the city had been given a chance to come up with their own figures and failed. "The city had the first crack at it," said Daniels. "The city didn't do anything."

Attorneys for KIPP Ujima Village Academy, Northwood-Appold Community Academy and Southwest Baltimore Charter School also voiced support for the state ruling as interested parties.

Although Hargadon said his ruling would be out shortly, the city school system and charter schools have reached an agreement for the school year. The agreement requires that city schools to pay each charter school $5,379 per student, plus employee benefits, which amount to $849 per student.

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