Austin School Board Votes to Bring in Charters

After a six and a half hour debate and discussion in front of an audience, the Austin school board has voted 6-3 in bringing in IDEA Public Schools, a South Texas charter school operator, to take over the running of two schools in East Austin, writes Melissa Taboada at the Statesman.

The move can't be said to be popular with the community – at least, the members of the community gathered to watch the debate take place.

After the vote took place, the crowd chanted: "You refused to listen. We don't want IDEA schools!", "Down with Carstarphen!", "Boycott IDEA!" and "Shame!"

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen announced before the board adjourned that she and the board are committed to working to address community concerns.

Tom Torkelson, founder of IDEA Public Schools, said that amendments to the contract made during the meeting "were very fair and reasonable." These amendments regarded minimum performance standards, assurances that siblings can attend the same school and a grievance process.

The recommendations also included proposals to expand dual language immersion programs, address overcrowding in North Austin elementary schools and launching charter school programs to help students struggling to graduate, write Taboada.

A district statement announced that IDEA are set to start with a charter program for kindergarten to second grades and sixth grade in 2012-13.

"In subsequent years, IDEA would expand so by the 2018-19 school year, the program would serve Allan students in kindergarten through fifth grade and all students in the Eastside Memorial Vertical Team in sixth through 12th grade. Students who live in the Allan attendance area would have priority for kindergarten through fifth. Any remaining seats would be available to other students in the Eastside Memorial Vertical Team, then to students district-wide through a lottery system," the statement said.

"We have a lot of work to do to earn the trust of the community and we look forward to that process," Torkelson said.

School board President Mark Williams saw the positives of the move, claiming that said the deal was needed because the district was losing students to charter schools "in competition with us."

Now, thanks to the deal, the district "can work in partnership with them."

Carstarphen said trustees moved forward with "sticky issues that have been plaguing" the district for some time.

The district will set to begin working with schools and communities in the New Year.

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