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Proposed Medford charter school hits roadblock

Originally published by the Medford Mail Tribune

By Kaylee Tornay / Mail Tribune

Posted Jun 26, 2015 at 5:27 PM;Updated Jun 27, 2015 at 11:21 AM

A proposed charter school for middle-schoolers hit a roadblock this week when board members were informed by the Medford School District that it must have its required $100,000 funding in its bank account by July 1 and could not count toward that total a letter guaranteeing additional funding.

According to Amy Maukonen, a board member with the proposed Valley School of Southern Oregon, that decision leaves the organizers $35,000 short of the threshold, with only $65,000 on hand in the bank account. The news came the same week the charter school supporters were reporting that they had achieved their funding goal.

The agreement permitting the charter school that was approved by the Medford School Board in its May 18 meeting states that the required amount would be ”$100,000 cash on hand by June 30, 2015.”

On Tuesday, Brad Earl, the school district’s chief operations officer, informed Valley School board Chairwoman Andrea Dabbs-Partsafas in an email that the district would insist on that requirement, meaning the funds promised by a charitable organization would not be considered as part of the mandatory $100,000.

That means the Valley School board must raise the remaining amount before Wednesday. Maukonen said the board intends to appeal the interpretation, and if the deadline passes, to ask the Oregon Department of Education for help in getting more time to secure the funds.

“We feel that we’ve provided the funding they asked us to have,” Maukonen said.

The guarantor letter comes from the Walton Family Foundation, which provides support to charter schools around the country. In his email to Dabbs-Partsfanas, Earl wrote that he would leave it up to the Valley School board to manage the situation with the foundation.

“Schools are expensive,” Earl said. “We need that contingency on hand.”

The charter school faced resistance from the school district earlier, submitting its proposal three times before it was accepted. Although the charter school’s plan — including a 519-page proposal — was accepted on the third try, Medford School Board members continued to question it.

Concerns were raised about whether there was adequate financing and also whether the school, which will focus on areas related to math, science, engineering and technology, was targeting high-achieving students.

Charter school supporters said that students would be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis in the school’s initial year, but after that would gain admission through a lottery.

Charter schools operate largely independently, with their own boards, but each must obtain permission from the school district in which it locates, as they draw not only students, but also funding from the associated school district.

The Valley School board is also working to secure a building on Riverside Avenue in central Medford to house the school. Maukonen said they considered many buildings but decided on that structure, which has previously housed several restaurants, including Azteca and Marigold’s, because it would work with their budget and was move-in ready. The charter school must obtain a conditional-use permit from the Medford Planning Commission to use the space.

For more information on the Valley School, see its website or visit its Facebook page.

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