School Board votes for charter

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Lynette Norris
ECB Publishing, Inc.
Surprisingly enough, no one had signed up for public comment by the time the school board meeting began.  School Board Chair Gladys Roann-Watson express a bit of a pleasant surprise, adding “I don’t know whether to clap or not,” to a round of chuckles.
School Board Attorney Tom Reeves walked everyone through the thick packet containing the charter contract and lease, focusing mainly on the changes that had been made at the April 13 meeting and expanding on some of the comments included to the side of each item.
Some of the changes and/or clarifications included:
• The State DOE administrating and monitoring all state assessment tests given to students
• A clarification that Pre-K was to include three, and four-year-olds
• Somerset was to accept all returning students without requiring an application; only new students arriving after the school year began would need an application
• A list of the district’s revenue sources that were exempt from the requirement to share with the charter (for example, revenue from pari-mutuels, mobile home fees, Workforce Development funds to be used for the adult education programs, rental income from school properties on Water Street, proceeds from the sale or lease of surplus property, rebates from government refunds, utility deposits, grants or other monies not earmarked for the education of students, etc.)
Conditions that would apply if the district or the school assumed responsibility for transporting students, or whether this would be contracted out to another vendor, and who would pay how much for what. The most likely scenario would be that district would supply the drivers and buses and the charter would reimburse the district as part of a leasing agreement; this would cover only transportation for daily attendance – football games, fields trips and such would be another matter, worked out separately
Charter to come up with its own reading plan and provide curriculum for English Language Learners (ELL).
The lease requires that Somerset be responsible for insurance and show proof of insurance, includes a negotiation still to be worked out over the City of Monticello credits on the school facility’s water bill (due to previous overcharges because of a faulty meter), allows the district to retain all timber rights to wooded areas of the school property should such a question ever arise, among other things.  The charter lease will include all athletic fields and athletic-related facilities on the Water Street property, and allow “occasional” access to the auditorium for school functions.  As attorney Reeves noted, due to the compressed nature of the timeline, there may be “some practical things that may have to be worked out later.”
Additionally, the charter wanted access to at least one classroom on the Water Street property on an “as-needed” basis – if a student for behavioral or other reasons couldn’t be at the main school, his or her education could continue uninterrupted at the “second chance” classroom.
In the most likely event that the district would be responsible for transportation, Somerset official Doug Rodriguez explained the “double run” schedule for parents who were uncomfortable with their small children riding the bus with the much older children.  They could choose to put their elementary-aged children on the later buses, since elementary school classes started later.  For those parents who had to work or otherwise needed to send their younger children on the early bus run, there would be “before-school” care and supervision provided, and a code of student conduct for all those riding the bus.
School board member Shirley Washington asked to see a hard copy breakdown of the figures used to come up with the district’s $216K transportation budget, asking if that figure included more money for the bus drivers who now being paid “peanut money.”  Board member Sandra Saunders also wished to go on record as advocating for more money for the bus drivers, since all positions under Somerset, from instructors to custodians, would see a significant pay increase.  “Think about that, please, it’s only right.”
Fredie Hightower replied that he was very sensitive to that, and “if there is a window of opportunity, we’ll do that.”
School Superintendent Marianne Arbulu also said that the district would try to do that, within the confines of the budget.
In answer to a question from board member Bill Brumfield, Rodriguez stated that Somerset would have its own website up and running, and wanted to link its website to the district’s.
Shortly before the vote, Arbulu stated that “tonight is not an ending, but a milestone…there’s much more to do.”  The process had, however, brought some excitement to the district, and hope that things had turned a corner.  “I respectfully submit the three charters (elementary school, middle school and high school).”
In separate votes for each charter, the board approved them unanimously.
To a round of enthusiastic applause, Saunders stated there had been enough negativity, and that tonight had seen something positive.  “Our children have been deprived too long…I want to see us back on the map for good education.”
Brumfield added that he agreed with Saunders.  “We’ve all go to get on board and help…I’m ready for a new tomorrow for Jefferson County.”