Board is urged to end dispute over contract

KIPP Academy is running out of money, parents and staff tell city school panel

November 16, 2006|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,Sun reporter

Dozens of pupils, staff and parents from Baltimore's highest-performing charter school pleaded with the city school board Tuesday night to resolve a contract dispute that has left them unable to buy the materials they need.

Jason Botel, founder of the school, KIPP Ujima Village Academy in Northwest Baltimore, told the board that "we are literally running out of money." His presentation prompted a strong reaction from board member Kalman "Buzzy" Hettleman, who told the approximately 70 people from KIPP in the audience that their school is being treated fairly and getting the same resources as all other schools.

"I don't think KIPP wants to be perceived as looking out for itself at the expense of others," Hettleman said.

Charter schools are public schools that operate independently, under contracts with local systems. KIPP is one of 17 charter schools in Baltimore and one of 24 in Maryland. Part of a national network of schools that have achieved stellar results with poor and minority children, KIPP posted the state's highest test scores last school year in seventh- and eighth-grade math.

KIPP's contract with the city school board expired this summer. Shortly thereafter, the state Court of Special Appeals ruled that school systems must give their charter schools the same amount in cash as they give their regular schools.

The city spends the equivalent of about $11,000 per child in its regular public schools. Its charter schools receive $5,859 per child in cash and the rest in services that the school system provides, such as special education and food. KIPP wants to get the $11,000 in cash in its next contract, saying the system is obligated to comply with the court ruling. But that would require the school system -- which is appealing the court decision -- to provide that same funding to all its charter schools.

Both sides expressed a desire to reach an agreement on a contract in the next few weeks so the board can approve it at its December meeting.

While KIPP is operating without a contract, its staff is being paid by central headquarters, and it is receiving the special education, food and other services it gets from the system. But it has not received several hundred thousand dollars it is owed for basic operations, including materials.

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