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Liam Castle, 3, a soon-to-be preschooler at Kings Valley Charter School, holds a sign supporting the school during a community rally July 31. Both his parents work at the school.
August 07, 2012
KINGS VALLEY -- Students, parents, staff and the community of Kings Valley Charter School were glad to hear Philomath School District officials say last week they didn't intend to close the successful school.
However, the issues that led to a notice of termination of the charter remain contentious.
The charter school located in Benton County, just south of the Polk County line, was notified July 30 that the Philomath School District intended to close the school in 60 days as it was in violation of its charter.
KVCS serves 183 students -- the majority from Polk County -- and has 36 employees.
Since the notification, Philomath Superintendent Dan Forbess and other officials have said the district doesn't want to close the school, but talk over what it sees as violations of the school's charter.
"It is encouraging that they don't intend to close us," said Mark Hazelton, the director of KVCS. "We are requesting the superintendent rescind that letter and send a letter that says we can stay open if we fix the (dispute)."
Forbess said the extreme measure was the only option the district's attorney saw as an avenue to bring KVCS to the negotiating table. He said there's no provision in the charter to send KVCS a warning letter.
"That is unfortunate that the only way to bring them to table is to say that we are going to put them on notice," Forbess said.
Hazelton said he was disappointed the district wouldn't retract the notice, but said he saw hope of moving forward.
"Their lawyer is going to write a proposal to see if we can settle our disagreements," Hazelton said.
If the problem -- which involves funding and employee contracting issues -- can't be solved, the impact could reach beyond Kings Valley.
Falls City High School allows KVCS students to participate in some of its sports programs through a cooperative agreement approved by the Oregon School Activities Association. Half of Falls City's football team were Kings Valley students last year. A KVCS closure could jeopardize a football season.
"We would lose a lot of athletes and it would be pretty devastating if that happened," said Dennis Sickles, FCHS athletic director.
Principal Shari Blackburn said Hazelton had contacted Falls City in July about exploring more school partnerships and "how to keep small schools viable."
"After school activities like clubs and sports are so important to student success," Blackburn said. "If there wasn't a football team ... I could see that having an affect on our kids."
At issue in the dispute, according to the Philomath School District, is KVCS hiring a nonprofit entity, People Sustaining Kings Valley (PSKV), to provide a majority of education services at the school. All but one of the school's staff members are employed by the nonprofit. PSKV provided services for the entire 2011-12 school year. The move was made to save the school money. About $80,000 in savings came from not having to pay Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) benefits as the majority of the staff are not employees of the school, but of PSKV. Hazelton said without the contract, cuts would have to be made.
Part of the crowd estimated at around 200 listen carefully to an explanation July 31 of what the Philomath School District's termination letter could mean to Kings Valley Charter School.
The district contends contracting with the nonprofit violates the charter by "outsourcing" a majority of educational services, not seeking permission from the district to proceed with the contract, and not putting the contract out for bid.
"They never did that -- so we want to talk about it," Forbess said last week. "It has to be open to anyone else that feels they can provide that service."
KVCS doesn't believe it has violated the charter because administration of the school remains under the direction of Hazelton, the sole employee of KVCS.
"We believe we have behaved within our charter's agreement with contracting services," KVCS board member Diana Barnhart said. "We believe they don't have ground to stand on."
Furthermore, Hazelton said the school didn't put the contract out for bid because it didn't believe any other entity would be capable of providing the service required.
"It's a pretty specialized thing they would have to be able to do for us," he said. "We went out and looked and didn't find anything like what we needed."
Hazelton said, in addition, PERS determined the arrangement was legal, as stated in a July 17 letter to the school.
Funding dispute over RESFs
Money is also at issue -- namely remote elementary school funds KVCS feels it is entitled to and is suing the district to receive. KVCS believes it should have received all of the roughly $300,000 remote school funds the district was paid during 2011-12 as recent changes in state law qualify the school to receive the funding. KVCS was only given a portion of it and filed a lawsuit July 9 seeking about $179,000.
PSD asserts giving all the funds to KVCS wouldn't be fair to the rest of the district.
Forbess said if KVCS were to receive all the funding, it would be averaging about $7,500 per student, while the rest of the district would be averaging $6,000 per student.
"We are trying to look at this in an equitable manner for all students in the district," Forbess said. "I'm confident we will find a resolution and move forward in a positive manner."
Hazelton disputes those figures, claiming Philomath would receive $7,333 per student even if the charter school received all of the remote school funds.
KVCS officials and parents, however, also see the timing of the notice as suspect, especially given PSD knew of the PSKV agreement before the start of the 2011-12 school year. KVCS sees the move as an intimidation tactic.
Last week's announcement created a wide range of emotions -- from shock and surprise to disappointment and anger -- many of which were displayed during an emergency meeting July 31 attended by about 200 individuals.
Scott and Melody Castle both work at the school, Scott as a teacher, Melody as a registrar and college and career adviser. Their 3-year-old son, Liam, is starting preschool at KVCS in the fall -- "hopefully," Melody said.
Scott Castle has taught at KVCS for eight years and said the notice doesn't seem real.
"I feel like Philomath isn't looking at the big picture," he said. "It feels like there should have been communication first, that `we want you to stay open because of what's happening here, so lets work this out.'"
Melody Castle said if the school were to close, they would have no choice but to move elsewhere.
Stephanie Campbell of Dallas has a daughter going into first grade at KVCS and a son she wants to enroll in preschool there in 2013.
"It's very unsettling," Campbell said of the potential for closure, especially so close to the beginning of the school year. "The other options are private school, which I can't afford, and homeschooling, which, because I run child care at home, I don't have the schedule for."
Officials on both sides of the issues believe there is room to work out an agreement to avoid closing the school.
Forbess said the district and KVCS will likely add provisions into the charter for better communication in the future.
Hazelton said that would be for the best.
"If he (Forbess) has legitimate concerns about the charter, we would like to work that out," Hazelton said. "Good people can solve issues if we spend some time on it."