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BISD Charter plan advances

January 18, 2019

The Beaumont Independent School District on Thursday unanimously took the next step toward partnering with charter operators at three schools in Improvement Required status.

The board gave the superintendent approval to finalize negotiations with Responsive Ed to operate Fehl-Price Elementary School and Phalen Leadership Academies to operate Jones-Clark Elementary and Smith Middle schools. Because the contracts aren’t yet final, any involved party could still walk away. But the board seems united in its commitment to the process.

Because the schools are in IR status, they could face closure next year, meaning any reopening of the school would have to be with all new students and programs, said former Spring Branch ISD Superintendent and consultant Duncan Klussmann. Spring Branch ISD launched in-district charter partnerships.

The board said it’s important to keep these neighborhood schools open, so it wanted to take action instead of waiting to see if the schools were no longer facing closure.

Responsive Ed has become the “go-to” for improving campuses, said Associate Superintendent of Secondary Schools Shannon Allen. Phalen Leadership Academies “is one of the largest operators of turnaround schools” and has a history of improving urban, underperforming schools, she said.

District leadership said they spent time interviewing the nonprofit charter providers, visiting campuses and vetting them to decide the operators were the right ones for the school district.

“By partnering with proven programs we can accelerate the improvements,” Superintendent John Frossard said.

Along with more specific provisions in each contract, state law allows charter school partners to decide who to hire, what to teach, when to be in and out of class and other parameters, while Beaumont ISD has to make sure they’re still meeting the Texas Education Agency’s requirements.

Klussmann gave the board and meeting attendees a preview of contract provisions and other benefits state law gives to campuses that partner with charter schools in an attempt to improve campuses.

He said each contract is based on the number of students at the three campuses. Operators are expected to get the schools to a “C” standard within the first three years. If that standard is not met yet, the district can terminate the contract.

The proposed contract length is for five years with an option to renew for two-year periods. The proposed contract also states it’s understood that once schools reach a “C” rating, they’ll be expected to continue reaching for an “A” or “B,” Klussmann said.

Additionally, one of the campuses will hire its own staff, although Klussmann didn’t say which campus.

Frossard said all teachers in “good standing” will have a place in BISD if not at the same school.

As a benefit for partnering IR schools with charter schools, the district would be given additional state funding, which Klussmann estimated at about $3 million total for the three schools. State law also allows for a two-year reprieve from the accountability system to avoid closure while charter school programs get in place.

Despite the board’s unanimous support, the district acknowledges some parents may want to move their children. Allen noted parents will have the opportunity to transfer students as long as there’s space at other campuses.

After the district finalizes plans with the charter providers, the Texas Education Agency will have to approve any plans.

kaitlin.bain@beaumontenterprise.com

twitter.com/KaitlinBain

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