Pedee poised to become charter school

Pedee Elementary School looks like it will have a second life as a charter school. Found to be financially unfeasable to keep as a district elementary school, Pedee School would cost the district less

DALLAS -- Pedee Elementary School looks like it will have a second life as a charter school. Found to be financially unfeasable to keep as a district elementary school, Pedee School would cost the district less to keep open as a charter school than to shut down.

A charter school is another public school option within a school district. Parents, teachers and community members run the school, which operates under a contract, or charter, with the local school board. Students from throughout the district and other districts may attend. As a public school, a charter school does not charge tuition.

Pedee School completed its charter school application within two weeks, former Pedee parent Dave Sherman said. Sherman, an attorney with a focus in special education, and his wife Kim, who is pursuing her master's in the education field, worked with few breaks in those weeks.

Charter Schools Specialist Joni Gilles of the State Education Department said she had never seen an application filed as quickly as with Pedee. Dallas Schools Superintendent Dave Voves proposed closing Pedee at an April 9 budget committee meeting; Sherman turned in an application April 23.

Though starting up as a charter school this fall gives Pedee a tight timeline, Gilles thinks it can happen. "They have some real quality folks working on this," Gilles said. "They know a lot about education."

The final choice of whether to enter a charter agreement rests with the district, Gilles said. After it accepted Pedee's application as complete on May 14, the district has 60 days to conduct public hearings and then 30 days to take action. Voves called the application "thorough and complete," and predicted the hearing phase would go smoothly.

The Dallas School District Board will hold its hearings June 11 and 15. School board members Mike Timmerman and John Tawney will represent the board in its negotiations.

After the board accepts the application, formal negotiations begin, Voves said. "There are 100,000 questions, like `who mows the lawn?'" In addition, Pedee and the district need to agree on lunch programs, maintenance, utilities and water bills, Voves said.

A Pedee charter school would look a lot like the old Pedee Elementary, Sherman said. The school would retain most of its staff and curriculum but expand to teach sixth-graders. Pedee currently teaches grades four and five. "We're using [the charter process] as a funding mechanism for something that works," Sherman said, rather than making drastic changes.

Voves also wants continuity. "These are Dallas kids and we want some control over their education," Voves said. "They'll eventually come back into our system" in middle school. "Legally, if the board is a sponsor, the district has some control over the teaching staff."

Current students at Pedee and at Bridgeport Elementary, Pedee's feeder school, would have three options, Voves said. They could continue to attend Bridgeport, go to a Pedee charter school or even go to Oakdale Heights Elementary in town. This year's fifth-graders would have the option of attending LaCreole Middle School or staying with Pedee.

Sherman estimates Pedee will retain 23 fourth-graders, 14 fifth-graders and 10 sixth-graders from the Dallas district next school year. Pedee would cap enrollment at 55, Sherman said. "We'll stay small and do well."

According to Pedee's charter application, the school will give priority to students living in the Pedee and Bridgeport area. Siblings of Pedee students and those attending Bridgeport or Kings Valley schools but not living in the area will have second priority. All others will enter a lottery system for admission.

Everything depends on numbers, Voves said. He has based cost estimates on 47 students attending Pedee, but "every one student that chooses not to go to a charter school starts swinging things."

Based on the current setup, 47 current Dallas district students attending Pedee would cost the district $2,000 more than closing the school, Voves said. But if enrollment is 46 or lower, the district actually saves money.

Dip too low in enrollment, however, and the charter school falls apart. If Pedee has less than 25 students registered by Aug. 1, the district can not enter into a charter agreement, Voves said.

This fact does not worry Sherman. He sees a clear path for Pedee School opening its doors this coming school year. "We don't really see any obstacles to us becoming a charter school in September," he said. "After all, we've gone from nothing to having a completed charter application in two weeks' time."

For more information on Pedee School, write David Sherman at dave@sherm.com

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