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Corbett school board denies charter lease

• Director Bob Dunton talks of future legal proceedings • School board says it will announce options for charter families


Emotions ran high Tuesday, as the Corbett School Board voted 5-2 to pull the plug on Corbett Charter School’s lease after this school year.

The decision means the school can operate next year, but it will need to find a new building in which to offer instruction.

The board’s decision came on the heels of public testimony, an executive session and a private negotiation meeting among Charter Director Bob Dunton, Superintendent Randy Trani and board directors Victoria Purvine and Todd Mickalson.

Purvine and Director Annette Calcagno were the two board members voting in favor of giving the charter one more year on Corbett’s campus before a potential move to Rockwood.

“My decision was based on the children, not the politics or adults,” Calcagno, an open critic of the district and its administration, said. “Children have a choice between two systems — some thrive in one and some thrive in another. I think we’ll harm some of them by ripping the rug underneath them. It’s not the right thing to do.”

Many agreed the elephant in the room was the charter’s director, who was accused of creating a hostile work environment and driving a wedge between Corbett and charter families.

Yet charter parents such as Lisa Cassel expressed praise for the charter school.

“I looked for an exceptional place for my children and prayed for a school like this,” she said. “It’s magical, and they love it.”

While Dunton was not present for the lease renewal meeting, the audience was filled with a mix of Corbett and charter families and teachers who offered candid words on why they supported or opposed the charter’s lease renewal.

A spiral of controversy has surrounded the charter school, with many teachers, parents and members of the public calling it divisive.

And yet even some opponents of the charter school said while they wanted to see the charter go, they wanted to do what was in the best interest of students and avoid a potential lawsuit from Dunton.

Immediately following Tuesday’s meeting, Dunton began sending out dramatic public emails expressing his disappointment with the charter’s “eviction notice” and alluding to contact with the school’s lawyer and legal proceedings.

“I’m not knowing what to believe,” said Corbett citizen Marnie Freeman, the organizer of a recent community forum about Corbett schools. “Is there an existing rental agreement? Have there been board meetings not all board members have attended? I hope those things aren’t true, but the emails are very disconcerting to me.

“I know there is a lot of unhappiness with the director of the charter, but we’re almost guaranteed some sort of lawsuit if we do not renew. That’s massive exposure and could be a huge disruption and financial impact for our school. ... You have a defining moment as a school board to make right on agreements made in the past. Whatever is right here is a hard question, but I hope that honesty and integrity will prevail.”

Board Chairman Charlie O’Neil called the special board meeting and negotiations with the charter school the culmination of one of the longest running negotiations and issues the district has faced.

Last April, the district told the Charter Association and the public that it would “critically examine the charter lease,” citing “dramatic resident student growth,” structural needs for the district and “the relational cost and benefits of sharing space with the charter school.”

On Jan. 22, the board voted to renew the charter school, but entered into a 90-day period of negotiations about the school.

Before the meeting, The Outlook learned Bob Dunton had a pre-application in with the city of Gresham for a 53,000-square-foot K-12 charter school in Rockwood at 19043 S.E. Stark St.

The narrative statement for the site concept for Rockwood Charter School states the school “is an existing charter school program located in Corbett, Ore., that would relocate to this property,” projected for 2015.

The Charter Association presented a written proposal regarding a new lease agreement to the board, with Dunton, meeting with Trani and O’Neil to discuss modifying the proposal.

Following Tuesday’s decision, Dunton has written about having charter families “packing Corbett’s open enrollment lottery in early March.”

“Our lawyer believes that their attempt at evicting us in unenforceable,” Dunton wrote. “We may have to live with being unwanted for another year, but you have to get it that my staff has felt the intense pressure of being unwanted virtually from the beginning.”

Trani said the board will speak with charter families in the coming weeks about their options for next year.

“First, the charter school may find some other venue in Corbett School District from which to operate and each charter family would have the choice to attend school at that new venue,” Trani wrote in an email. “Second, in the next two weeks the board will describe the process by which nonresident families can continue their student’s education here on the main campus.”




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