Morrison Staff Says: Don't Renew Charter

Morrison Charter Staff Vows to Leave If Charter Renewed

DALLAS - "Please do not renew this charter - if you do, you won't have the current staff," were the words from Morrison teacher Ken Guffey to the Dallas School board at Wednesday night's public hearing regarding the renewal of the Morrison Charter School contract with the Dallas district.

Both Guffey and fellow Morrison teacher Jamie Richardson strongly criticized the charter school's operation with the full support of the entire teaching and support staff sitting with them at the nearly two-hour hearing that drew about 40 to the Dallas High library.

The teachers and attorney Monica Smith of Salem opposed renewal of the charter while supporting the return of the Morrison program to its original status within the Dallas district.

The Dallas School board, chaired by Bob Ottaway, asked questions of several who spoke. A decision regarding its intent to renew or not renew the charter is expected at the Board's regular Monday night meeting at Morrison Administration Building, 111 S.W. Ash Street, at 7:30 p.m.

The only voice heard in support of renewing the charter was that of Morrison Executive Director Don Wildfang.

Wildfang emphasized that Morrison has met the letter of the contract with the district while adding value to the Dallas educational program.

Several points Wildfang cited as reasons for renewal were later challenged by critics of the Morrison program. While Wildfang indicated the "Morrison board and staff are ready to assist the district throughout the next contract," the current staff emphatically agreed it wouldn't return next fall if the program continues under a charter contract.

Smith provided the board with a five-page outline of reasons for non-renewal on a legal basis including non-compliance with alternative education admission standards, labor laws, district policies, health and safety policies, attendance and discipline, timely financial statements, absence of a school improvement plan and fiscal stability.

Wildfang's presentation addressed many of the same issues placing them in a positive light. As to the school improvement plan, Wildfang responded to Ottaway's question on the matter saying, "It's a matter of semantics. This item is covered in detail. I've been a principal at five schools in the district none of which have had plans as comprehensive as the plan we have here."

He then cited the continuous improvement plan approach required for individual students. Dallas director, Susan Humphrey commented, "A school improvement plan should be what you are going to do next year. What you say you're going to work on next year is adding a transition counselor or work with the Dallas district to provide alternative education."

That counselor position is designed to assist students in moving from the high school program to further education or into a career field, the executive director explained. "This is a service I believe the Morrison board would support in making available to any student in the community - possibly in an evening program.

Further criticism of the charter school was heard from retired middle school teacher Frank Pender. Strong support of the staff was heard from two parents, Shelly Billingsley and Sherry Peak.

Billingsley told of moving her daughter from a private school to Morrison saying "She has grown and her grades improved. It's the staff - they are true teachers."

Her daughter, Cheryne, added "I trust the teachers one hundred percent. They help us. Sit down with us - not just me - they are the real reason we are here."

Peak stated, "Morrison is the best thing that ever happened to my daughter she has gone from straight F's to straight A's. She understands now. She has bloomed. She can't wait to go to school. If not for the staff she wouldn't want to go."

Susan Stoops, a special education consultant hired by the district, as well as curriculum director Cory Bradshaw both emphasized the admission problems facing Morrison under state law. The charter contract calls for Morrison to be an alternative school but charter school law requires students be chosen by lottery.

Others repeatedly cited the dichotomy between the stated purpose of the school and the law. Problems at Morrison were noted by the teachers. Dallas High principal Keith Ussery outlined problems of getting students who need an alternative program into Morrison from his school.

Dallas School District Business Manager Kathy Hammer offered her analysis of Morrison's current cash flow and budget as well as projected financial numbers through the next three years. She disputed some of the projected revenue figures particularly those dealing with grants. She also questioned if adequate staffing expense had been budgeted in light of projected enrollment increases from an average daily attendance of 95 to 140 over the next three years.

As to Morrison financial reports, Director Kevin Crawford commented to Wildfang saying, "This board [Dallas School District] has three CPA's on it and if we don't understand what we are seeing you have a problem."

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