Leaders of IDEA Public Schools said Tuesday they are making plans to continue serving about 550 Central Texas students after the board of the Austin Independent School District voted to terminate its contract with the charter network.
IDEA currently operates one in-district charter school and had plans to expand to more campuses under an agreement approved by trustees last year. Now the charter will have to find new facilities for its existing students after June, when the current contract expires.
Its role within the district became a point of contention in November school board elections, in which three candidates critical of the partnership with IDEA defeated incumbent board members.
The new trustees joined two incumbent board members who had previously voted against the contract to void the agreement 5-4 late Monday night. Trustees also narrowly voted down a proposal that would have allowed the charter school to continue operating but block further expansion within the district.
IDEA Austin Executive Director Larkin Tackett said the decision would not affect a commitment to continue serving the students already enrolled at the charter school.
“This new board had questions about the contract,” Tackett said. “We were very interested in the compromise proposal that was put forward by one of the trustees. It just turned out that that proposal did not have enough support.”
IDEA founder and Executive Director Tom Torkelson took a harsher tone in comments ahead of the Monday school board meeting. After announcing a Department of Education award of more than $29 million in Race to the Top funds last week, he said canceling the contract would be a “knee-jerk, reactionary” decision by the board.
“We have 500 students and parents who placed their kids at IDEA Allan because they thought that a contract and an agreement made between our board and the board at AISD meant something,” he said. “It is not respecting the voice of the 500 students and their families who chose IDEA Allan.”
In an interview with the Austin American-Statesman, Trustee Jayme Mathias responded to Torkelson’s comments by claiming IDEA was using its partnership with AISD to boost its own image. He also questioned whether the Race to the Top award was based on merit or friends in the Department of Education.
The Austin school district was to play a significant role in IDEA’s expansion to 56 schools, including Central Texas, by 2017. The charter agreed as part of its contract not to open any stand-alone charter schools to compete with the district.
The IDEA Allan campus was one of two new Central Texas locations opened this year, including IDEA Carver in San Antonio, a partnership with the private school operated by Spurs hero David Robinson.
While the school district provided the facility, IDEA provided the personnel and curriculum for the Allan campus, which began by enrolling kindergarteners and first-, second- and sixth-graders.
But opponents of the charter, including community members connected to campuses identified for future expansion, continued to push back and eventually propelled Mathias and other trustees to office.
While the board of trustees opted to terminate the contract with IDEA on Monday, its members voted unanimously to approve the creation of another in-district charter at Travis Heights Elementary with backing from community members.
David Dunn, executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association, said while IDEA could have communicated more effectively with the community, he said the board’s decision was “misguided.”
He said he expected Texas school districts and charters to continue forming collaborative partnerships.
“It’s still pretty rare but we are starting to see more of them,” he said. “I think we’re going to see that continue.”
Andrew Kreighbaum covers education and general assignments at The Monitor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (956) 683-4472.
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