Judge dismisses city's appeal over charter schools

He declares case moot after parties reach pact on funding for this year

August 25, 2005|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore Circuit Court judge declared the city school system's clash with two charter schools settled yesterday since the two parties had reached a funding agreement for this school year.

Judge Edward R.K. Hargadon issued his response to the city school system's appeal of a Maryland State Board of Education ruling that said it should be paying nearly $11,000 for each student who chooses to enroll in the publicly funded but independent schools.

That amount is deemed to be equivalent to the money spent on an average public school pupil for one year.

In a hearing Monday, an attorney for the city schools argued that the state's funding formula was crafted improperly.

But attorneys for the City Neighbors Charter School and Patterson Park Public Charter School - set to begin their first school year - defended the state's decision. They argued that they need the city schools to provide cash, not services, to have the flexibility to provide alternatives.

Meanwhile, city and charter school officials said they had reached an agreement for the coming school year in which the city will pay $5,379 per student in cash. In addition, it will provide $4,026 per student in services, such as special education.

That agreement led Hargardon to dismiss the city's appeal as moot.

"There is no live controversy at this stage of review," wrote Hargadon. "Moreover, though the parties may, in the future, encounter similar difficulties with respect to funding, that is nowhere near a certainty, and there is nothing to prevent the parties from later seeking review by the courts."

Charter school officials expressed disappointment in the decision.

Will DuBois, an attorney for City Neighbors Charter School, said it is exploring legal options. "The controversy ... on funding is ongoing and alive and well, and we are going to continue to see resolution on this," DuBois said. "One year of funding certainty is really no certainty for the school."

The attorney for the city schools, Warren N. Weaver, said he did not know what the next step would be but that the ruling mirrored his arguments that the state's process was improper.

Hargadon called the process "flawed" because it did not allow for input from all the interested parties.

Hargardon also ruled favorably on a separate petition filed by the Baltimore Teachers' Union and the Baltimore Municipal Employees Union. The unions had appealed a state provision that allowed charter schools to seek waivers from a requirement that their employees be city public school employees subject to collective bargaining rights.

Hargardon reversed the state board's decision, noting the unions' "threat of harm to their collective bargaining rights."

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