- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2000

A District of Columbia charter school's officials have proposed a "partnership" with school Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman, who is seeking to use the charter school building for a new magnet school.

"The partnership will encourage both programs to excel through an exchange of best practices, joint teacher training and other community building efforts," Cecile Middleton, principal of the Paul Junior High Public Charter School told Mrs. Ackerman in a March 2 letter.

However, Mrs. Middleton said there will no room in the building for Mrs. Ackerman's new math and science magnet program once Paul becomes an independent charter school this fall.

A spokeswoman for Mrs. Ackerman said she would respond to the proposal after she had a chance to review it.

"What we really need here is a win-win situation," said Nelson Smith, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board. "We can either argue over this building or we can have two really excellent schools in Ward 4."

Advocates of the publicly funded, privately run charter schools have long battled with public school officials for the right to use underused buildings for new charter schools. The Paul charter school is at Eighth and Oglethorpe streets NW.

Mrs. Middleton suggested that Mrs. Ackerman's magnet program could be housed at nearby Macfarland Middle School, which is currently about half empty.

"We would love to have a math and science program," said Macfarland's acting Principal Cheryl Warley. "It sounds great and we do have extra room."

So far, no one from the school system has talked to her about it, Ms. Warley said.

Meanwhile, legislation pending in the D.C. Council would make any future public-to-charter conversions much more difficult.

Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis, Ward 4 Democrat, plans to introduce a bill that would set a moratorium on charter conversions. A few weeks ago, she introduced two bills that would make charter conversions much more difficult.

Paul is the first and only school in the city to convert from a traditional school to a public charter. Mrs. Middleton has said the school would function more efficiently if it were independent of the school system bureaucracy.

The Paul school's three-year application process included gathering signatures in support of conversion from more than 500 parents and more than two-thirds of the teachers. All current Paul students, their siblings and students in the neighborhood would be given priority at the new charter.

Paul officials last year applied to lease its current building from the school system. But a few months later, after the lease bid was rebuffed, Mrs. Ackerman announced plans to install a magnet school in the same building, saying the schools could share space.

That, Mrs. Middleton said, is out of the question. According to school system records, the Paul building is already at 99 percent capacity.

Charter school opponents are questioning the petition drive, saying some parents were not aware of what they were signing. Members of the Washington Teachers Union also staged a protest against the charter school last weekend.

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