TPS board discusses leasing facilities to charter schools

May 19, 2020

TPS board discusses leasing facilities to charter schools

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TPS board discusses leasing facilities to charter schools

Building leases: The board also discussed the potential leasing of two recently closed elementary school buildings, Mark Twain and Wright, to charter schools.

KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) Tulsa is seeking the Mark Twain Elementary School facility, 541 S. 43rd West Ave., to house its expanding high school, and Collegiate Hall is seeking the Wright facility, 1110 E. 45th Place, to house a new elementary program, which aims to be the first STEM-based elementary school in Tulsa.

KIPP Tulsa is currently renting the ECDC-Porter facility, 1740 W. 41st St., and Collegiate Hall shares a building with Marshal Elementary School, 1142 E. 56th St.

Don Parker, executive director of KIPP Tulsa, said the high school had about 150 ninth- and 10th-grade students this year but will have about 233 ninth-, 10th- and 11th-grade students next year.

Although the Porter facility could “marginally” support the high school in the coming year, it wouldn’t “at all” the next year, Parker said.

“(Mark Twain)’s a much bigger space, and we need a bigger space, and it’s a little closer,” Parker said, mentioning that the high school serves mostly north Tulsa students.

Mark Twain has a capacity of about 550, depending on the configuration of 33 classrooms, Parker said.

A slew of speakers, including Nikhil Kawlra, executive director of the college preparatory school, spoke in favor of Collegiate Hall’s renting the Wright building. They also included a parent, an eighth-grade student and a teacher.

Kawlra and the student both voiced students’ longing for a space they can call their own, and a parent shared a safety concern about the students’ being shuffled in and out of portable trailer classrooms.

Collegiate Hall teacher Ben Imlay said he had concerns during the hiring process when he learned that the program shared a building with another school, but he said he saw educators work together to put students first and attempt to build distinct school cultures.

However, 200 students transitioning among classrooms in a single hallway can get intense, and Collegiate Hall students deserve to have spaces for assemblies and have access to a library, he said.

With Wright, “our school can finally become the school our children deserve,” he added.

The board’s agenda states that each property to be leased received only one application in the two-week window when they could be submitted.

School board member Jennettie Marshall passionately voiced her belief that the application process for the facility leases was not open or transparent. She called the process an “inside job” and “quid pro quo,” saying board members met in advance with a representative of KIPP to discuss the possibility of its leasing the Mark Twain building. She also said the board has a conflict of interest with Collegiate Hall.

Although Gist said the board made the leasing opportunities known to at least a dozen organizations, Marshall said some told her they didn’t apply because they thought the process was skewed.

Board President Shawna Keller was quick to defend the board members’ integrity, and Schreiber called it “unfortunate” that there were schools or organizations that felt differently.

“If there are folks out there that want to seek these buildings, use the process that was created so we can be aware of that and have this discussion,” Schreiber said.

Gist pointed out that there were plenty of rumors that the charter schools were seeking other locations, and she emphasized that the notion that the district is planning around charter schools is “completely unfounded” and “absolutely incorrect,” reminding members how carefully they made the “unwelcome” and “painful but necessary” decision to close the elementary schools earlier in the year due to financial constraints.

”We have been providing lease spaces to charter schools for 20 years,” she said, urging board members and community members to remember that charter school families are Tulsans, too.