As the clock ticks on the deadline for Longview ISD to modify its state application for six charter campuses, Pine Tree ISD is considering turning one of its schools or programs into a charter.
Meanwhile, officials at other Longview-area school districts say they have little or no interest in pursuing a similar direction.
Longview ISD has a June 4 deadline to make modifications to its SB 1882 application and could wait up to 30 days for final approval from the Texas Education Agency. The district wants to make six campuses a charter district-within-a-district, led by a new board. Those campuses are East Texas Montessori Prep Academy, Forest Park Middle School and Johnston-McQueen, Ware, J.L. Everhart and Bramlette elementary schools.
In Pine Tree ISD, Assistant Superintendent Valerie Baxter sought “board approval to investigate and possibly pursue charter school status through the Texas Education Agency,” according to minutes from a March 25 board meeting. The motion passed 6-0.
“The purpose was only to inform (trustees), to let them know,” Baxter said this past week. “If we decide to move with, for example, a grant application, in the grant application the majority of them require you to document that date that it was presented to the board so everything is clearly viewed by everyone. What (the board) approved is for us to investigate.”
Baxter wants one thing about the process to be clear — any charter campus or program the district creates would still operate under the Pine Tree ISD board.
“Bottom line, there will be no relinquishing of local control; it will be governed by our school board whatever initiatives that we pursue,” Baxter said. “Our board will remain our board, and whatever Pine Tree does, they will still be our governing body.”
Because the district is still in the research process, Baxter said details are few, but there is flexibility for Pine Tree because it is a district of innovation.
“Districts of innovation came out about three years ago, where districts could petition the state for different flexibilities that they want,” she said. “It really gave districts latitude to approach local control differently. A lot of districts have used that to start school years earlier or extend their school day.”
According to TEA, these districts can be exempt from teacher certifications and contracts, class size regulations, school calendar and some purchasing requirements.
How much funding the district could get depends on the final plan and grants approved, Baxter said. Charters are also eligible for startup funding that an already established district would not have access to.
The journey to charter status has not been short or easy for Longview’s largest school district. Longview ISD started looking into charter schools in 2016, a year before lawmakers in Austin approved Senate Bill 1882, which makes the partnerships possible. The district originally considered converting downtown property into a Montessori charter school.
In June 2018, the district entered a partnership with nonprofit East Texas Advanced Academies to run several charter campuses within the district under the SB 1882 model that lets public schools enter a partnership with a nonprofit charter school entity such as the academies.
Months later, at a December board meeting, trustees voted to extend the partnership to seven of the district’s 13 schools with Cynthia Wise, Forest Park Middle School principal, as the chief operations operator.
The district hit a road bump in January when its application was denied by the Texas Education Agency. The agency informed Longview ISD that designating seven of its 13 campuses was too many, telling the district to modify its number of campuses and resubmit its application.
TEA later sent modifications to the district’s application, which the board approved at a special meeting this past week. Those modifications included reducing the number of campuses to six.
Now, pending the modifications, Longview ISD is near receiving its SB 1882 status.
With that status comes additional funding, Wise said.
“You get above and beyond what you get for students in terms of what a district normally gets per student,” she said. “Senate Bill 1882 gives you above that in funding per students; that’s approximately $2,200 additional funding per student of the schools that are actually in the network.”
According to a letter from the TEA obtained by the News-Journal, the district has until 5 p.m. June 4 to make and submit the required modifications. These modifications must be approved by the district board and the operating partner, ETAA.
Once submitted, the TEA will review the modifications, and the district will be informed within 30 days, according to the letter.
Longview ISD is scheduled to start the 2019-20 school year Aug. 19.
Despite the trend to create charter schools, Hallsville and Spring Hill ISDs aren’t getting on board.
“Spring Hill ISD has had no discussions concerning integrating charter schools into our district, nor do we anticipate any need for this discussion in the future,” Superintendent Wayne Guidry said in an email last week.
And Hallsville Superintendent Jeff Collum said there’s simply no interest in a charter school or program at his district.