At March 8 meeting the High Quality Schools Task Force, a school board committee approved a draft policy allowing the district to create charter schools, which the full board will vote on later this month.
The board also hired a district charter school manager, John Rothwell, who will begin his job next month. Rothwell now supervises charter schools for the Ohio Department of Education.
Charter schools, also known as community schools in Ohio, are designed to offer alternatives in education to traditional public schools. Charter schools get public funding but operate free of many local and state regulations.
The Charter School Forum, a group of local organizations including the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers (CFT), Cincinnati Council of Parent-Teacher Associations and the Baptist Ministers Conference requested that the board adopt policies that allow existing schools to be converted to charter schools and to create new charter schools within the district.
In a letter to CPS Superintendent Steven Adamowski, Charter School Forum officials said that privately operated charter schools "divert limited funds from public school districts to privately operated schools, without a concurrent reduction in expense for the public school districts.
The funding loss to CPS might exceed $10 million by the end of the 1999-2000 school year."
Forum members also said they were concerned that state-approved charter schools have little accountability to voters and taxpayers, might practice selective admissions, exclude students who need additional assistance or deny services to disabled students.
District charter schools might "keep families in the public schools and potentially recruit families that have chosen other options," the letter read.
CFT President Tom Mooney said that district charter schools would be more accountable to the taxpayers than independent charter schools, but still would operate with sufficient autonomy.
If charter schools are supposed to be an alternative to public education offered by CPS, why should CPS be sponsoring charter schools?
"It's not an alternative to public education," said Sally Warner, school board member and chairwoman of the High Quality Schools Task Force. "Charter schools are public schools."
The difference between independent and district charter schools would be in their oversight, she said.
Warner said, "Allowing our more high-achieving schools to be more autonomous" by converting them to charter schools would allow the board to devote more time to some of the lower-achieving schools.
Who would district charter schools be governed by?
Mooney said the governance of these proposed charter schools would be similar to the way public schools in Cincinnati are currently governed. All schools have a two-tiered, decentralized governance structure, including an instructional leadership team and a local school decision-making committee, made up primarily of parents and community members, he said. This governance structure also could work for district charter schools, Mooney said.
Or, charter school leaders might decide on a different form of governance, he said.