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Board gives charter school conditional OK

Not-for-profit status a potential obstacle

The Gresham-Barlow School Board has given Arthur Academy conditional approval to open a charter school in the district next fall.

At its Thursday, March 1, meeting, the board outlined 13 conditions for approval to Charles Arthur, director of the Mastery Learning Institute, a not-for-profit organization that operates Arthur Academy charter schools in the David Douglas, Portland, Reynolds and Woodburn school districts.

Academy officials and parents were happy with the decision, but academy officials voiced concern over the district's request that the proposed charter school incorporate itself as a not-for-profit organization.

Charles Arthur said that the Mastery Learning Institute has negotiated contracts with other districts on behalf of the academies it operates. He said that he was not aware until the board meeting that the district would request separate incorporation of the proposed Gresham school.

Ken Noah, district superintendent, said legal counsel had advised the district that Oregon law mandates that districts only make contracts with schools that are separately incorporated not-for-profits. A district statement said the Oregon Department of Education had requested other school districts return money that was spent on unlawfully formed charter schools, which do not charge tuition and which receive public funding. Noah also said the district had only learned of the Oregon law's requirement late that day, just prior to the meeting.

Arthur said he and other academy leaders found the not-for-profit condition 'puzzling.'

'Why should we set up another non-profit with the name of Arthur Academy attached to it?' he said.

Noah said he supports the charter school's establishment, but said the district had to thoroughly review every aspect of the school's proposal and make sure it abided by state law.

'We have to structure an agreement we believe serves the interests of both parties well,' he said.

Arthur said he and his staff would be asking for more clarification of the not-for-profit question, as well as other conditions, during the next round of negotiations with the district.

Among the other areas board members want discussed during negotiations between Arthur and the district are enrollment procedures, student transportation, nutritional services and dues and fees.

Arthur wants to open a school for 75 students in kindergarten through second grade in the Gresham-Barlow district. He said he is negotiating with Mountainview Christian Church, at 1890 N.E. Cleveland Ave., to serve as the proposed school's site. Arthur said the school would have no religious overtones or imagery.

'It'll be a secular setting even though it's in a church building,' he said.

The Gresham-Barlow school would add one grade each subsequent year until it was a K-5 school, Arthur said, and would have a maximum enrollment of 150 students, with about 25 students per class.

Arthur said the proposed school has already received 80 applications.

Kyle Butler and his wife, Angie Gaona, hope their son, Brian, can enroll in the proposed school's kindergarten. Brian's mother said she was hoping her son would get more classroom attention at Arthur Academy than he might in a regular public school.

'I think it's more one-on-one, which is what they need,' she said.

In other board news:

• In December the board authorized the district to borrow $2 million to buy 35.2 acres of land at 9554 S.E. 242nd St., otherwise known as the Weber property. At its March 1 meeting, the board authorized the district to borrow an additional $795,000 to provide for interest payments and borrowing costs for the Weber property.

Noah said that if the district buys the site, it might establish an elementary school or a middle school or possibly both types of schools.

• Noah told the board he has been holding discussions with representatives of the Reynolds, Centennial and Parkrose districts, as well as The Oregon Building Congress, regarding the proposed opening of a charter high school for students interested in the building trades. The school would be called the OBC Academy for Architecture, Construction and Engineering, and its supporters hope it will open in fall 2008.

The Congress' Web site, www.acecharterschool.org, states that the proposed school will likely be located in outer northeast Portland and will combine academic and professional technical education.