School District and charter school seek resolution
After the Molalla River School District board opted not to provide Renaissance Public Academy a letter of intent to terminate at the June 22 board meeting, a committee is coming together consisting of a facilitator and members from both parties. Superintendent Tony Mann expects the school to open in the fall.
"They're slated to open in the 17-18 school year as an option for kids in this community and any other community that choose to enroll themselves in a public charter school," Mann said.The June 22 meeting was filled with what Mann described as "rich discussion" concerning RPA. The board reviewed 16 situations that occurred at RPA during the 2016-2017 year, including their handling of a situation with a special education student who attempted suicide over a weekend, failure to follow a student's 504 plan, and safety concerns about a horse that had wandered onto the school's grounds. The details of those situations, which have all been resolved, can be found online at https://v3.boardbook.org/Public/PublicItemDownload.aspx?ik=40775894.
RPA opened in 2010 and applied for an extension to their charter in 2016. After negotiations, a new contract was approved in August 2016. According to the June 22 meeting minutes, Mann brought up a portion of a previously passed motion, which reads, "Any significant failures to comply with law or contract, as determined by the district, may be grounds for immediate termination of the charter."
Mann also stated that the purpose of the meeting was not to take action to terminate the school, but rather to start dialogue about the school's performance deficiencies.
After discussion of the deficiencies, MRSD board member Ralph Gierke moved to provide RPA with a letter of intent to terminate. The motion failed with two aye votes from Chair Calvin Nunn and Gierke and four nay votes from Vice Chair Mark Lucht, Linda Eskridge, Neal Lucht and Craig Loughridge.
Instead, to seek resolution and open communication, the board passed a motion to assemble a committee consisting of representatives from MRSD and RPA with a 45-day timeline.
"There is nothing in this 45 days that is tied to any law or statute," Mann said. "It is simply the Molalla River School District Board of Education's attempt to do whatever it takes to position Renaissance Public Academy to be a wonderfully vibrant option. That's the intention behind the 45 days."
Superintendent Mann named the members who will represent the school district on the committee. Those members are himself, Charter School Liaison Dave Luce, Support Education Director Michael Salitore, board members Neal Lucht, Nunn, and Mark Lucht. The members from RPA will include the new administrator Michael Gibson, board members Terry Muilenburg, Jeanna De Risio, Vicki Helmig and Cheryl Goodson.
Oregon School Board Association representative Kristen Miles agreed to facilitate. Before serving at OSBA, Miles was Portland Public School District's director of charter school programs.
"We're very excited," said Goodson. "Kristen Miles actually helped us through contract negotiations with the district. She really knows charter law."
Goodson, whose children attend RPA and who praised the academy for their excellent curriculum, said that the 16 situations didn't happen in the way they were portrayed at the June 22 meeting.
"They say we didn't follow a student's 504, but they never asked us what we did do," Goodson said. "They just assumed that we didn't when the parent contacted them."
RPA's new administrator Gibson added, "Everything can be resolved in communication."
Neal Lucht, who voted no to the motion to provide a letter of intent to terminate and who moved to assemble the committee, described MRSD and RPA as having a "difficult history."
He said he voted against the initial motion because he didn't believe that involving attorneys would lead to resolution.
"So moving that way…I felt would have doomed Renaissance Public Academy to fail, because we would never have engaged in the right conversation about how we find solutions to make them a great school," Lucht said.
He continued, "The challenges I think both sides have can be solved with communication and an understanding of what the real challenges are."
Though the 45 days ends on Aug. 6, Mann suggested that the board has the option of extending that timeline at their Aug. 10 board meeting.
"Kristen Miles, the facilitator, is not available any time prior to August 17," Mann said in an email. "The MRSD Board members are all aware of this fact, and I'm sure they will take that into consideration when they meet at their regular August business meeting with an opportunity to extend their own self-selected timeline."