- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2000

A months-long dispute between charter-school leaders and District of Columbia School Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman over use of a vacant public school building appears to be resolved.

Paul Junior High Public Charter School will be the sole occupant of a building at Eighth and Oglethorpe streets NW, according to the chairman of the D.C. financial control board. A math and science magnet program that Mrs. Ackerman wanted to put in the building will have to go somewhere else.

Board chairman Alice M. Rivlin wrote in a letter to Mrs. Ackerman that the board will approve the charter school's application to lease its current building when it converts to an independent charter school this fall. Mrs. Ackerman's magnet program will have to use another facility.

"The immediate concern facing the [board] is the need to allow sufficient time for the Paul Junior High Charter School to prepare for its opening," Ms. Rivlin wrote in the March 9 letter.

The letter, obtained by The Washington Times, also asked Mrs. Ackerman to "please provide to the [board] the amount of capital and operational funding required to establish your planned Technology and Arts Public School at another facility. The [board] is prepared to assist you in this effort."

Mrs. Ackerman had not yet seen the letter and was unavailable for comment at press time, her spokeswoman said.

Paul is the first and so far the only traditional public school in the city to convert to public charter status. The three-year conversion effort has been watched carefully by charter advocates, as well as by the movement's opponents. Some neighborhood leaders were concerned that the school system effectively would lose a large, viable public building from its inventory.

"The control board has effectively stolen a junior high school from the D.C. public schools," said Larry A. Gray, the legislative chairman of the D.C. Parent-Teacher Association. "It's tantamount to theft."

But it appears the charter movement has won this particular battle.

Cecile Middleton, the Paul principal who is leading the conversion effort, said through a spokesman that she is pleased with the board's decision and looks forward to building a strong program for the fall. More than 400 current Paul students already have enrolled for next year.

Mrs. Middleton has said previously that the school would function more efficiently and provide better services to students if it were freed from the bureaucracy of the traditional system.

Nelson Smith, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said he is gratified that the control board recognized the need to act quickly so the school could prepare to open.

Mrs. Ackerman has been encouraged to look to underused nearby public schools to find a home for her ambitious new magnet program, which she says she created specifically for parents of Paul students who wanted a non-charter alternative for next year.

The acting principal of Macfarland Middle School, near Paul, has said she would love to give Mrs. Ackerman's new program a home. Macfarland is filled to only 55 percent capacity. Backus Middle School, also nearby, is similarly vacant.

Charter schools, which operate with public funds and are free of charge, are independent of the traditional school bureaucracy and are open to any child in the District.

Mrs. Middleton, the Paul principal, has suggested to Mrs. Ackerman that the charter school and the magnet program create a partnership that would include joint teacher training. Charter advocates describe that move as an effort to end the hostilities between the charter movement and the traditional schools and make the competition friendly.

A spokesman for Mrs. Middleton said they have received no response from Mrs. Ackerman on the partnership proposal.

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