After an unsuccessful attempt to rent a building in Jackson State School District, Midtown Public Charter School will move from the Midtown neighborhood to a building near the intersection of Northside Drive and I-55 for the next school year.
The Authorization Board of the Statutory School approved the move on Tuesday.
Midtown Public, first opened in 2015, currently serves 240 students in grades 5-8, according to the Mississippi Department of Education. Midtown Partners, the charter school’s operators, tried to lease Rowan Middle School, which closed in 2017. The building housed an alternative GED program for a short time, but was unoccupied for several years.
Statutory schools are free public schools that do not report to the school board, as traditional public schools do. Instead, they are governed by the Mississippi Statutory School Board of Authors. These schools are controversial among supporters of traditional public schools because they have more flexibility for teachers and administrators when it comes to student learning, and are funded by local school districts on an enrollment basis.
This has been the subject of controversy among JPS supporters and officials. This school year alone, JPS paid the school $ 888,747.60. If the district had allowed Midtown to lease one of its unused buildings, it could have recouped the rent and repairs that the charter school was willing to do. But the reason Midtown generally proposed the move was to increase enrollment, which ultimately means JPS will pay the school more money in future school years.
Members of the JPS school board expressed a number of concerns with the proposed lease when it was presented to the board meeting on April 5, including the amount of rent payments and technical repair processes and possible re-authorization of the lease.
The charter school would pay $ 78,000 a year in rent and about $ 115,000 for the proposed renovation. Some board members have insisted on increasing the amount of rent, but state law prohibits public school counties from charging fees above the market value of the property.
Among the board members there was also a discussion about the broader merits of the charter school system, which, said superintendent Eric Green, should not be confused with the issue of rent.
“Whether there should be a Midtown, charter school or not, should work in Jackson, Mississippi, or not, it’s a worthy discussion and an issue that I’m sure is ripe for more movement and lobbying around the law that allows it to be” said Green. “We find ourselves in a situation where we have a few buildings that are closed, with a lot of ideas on how we can use those buildings, but we have an organization that stands before us now with the dollars that we know they have because they pass through us and go to them, and the opportunity to get back some of those dollars. ”
Board member Cynthia Thompson said she felt they did not need to accept the first offer that came up and offered to recruit suggestions for using the premises for other purposes. She also expressed disappointment with the wider development of the statutory school system.
“I understand the restrictions that are given to us as an area to follow. But it is difficult to play ball if another person does not have to follow these rules, ”she said.
At the next board meeting on April 19, nine people spoke, two-thirds of whom opposed the Rowan lease.
Ronika Smith, the father of two Midtown Public students who came to speak out in support of the lease, said her children were doing well and were happy to study after the visit.
“Midtown is a good school. If you give Midtown a chance to get Rowan, you will see everything, it will flourish, ”she said.
Other members of the community cited low Midtown test scores as a rental issue, which was also the case. was previously the subject of a state investigation.
“We live in a state that has historically underfunded black children’s education, and continues to do so while increasing funding for organizations such as Midtown Public Charter Schools, which at best have done little to educate black children, scoring in the bottom ten percent of Mississippi schools. “,” said the man who spoke during the public comment section at the meeting.
JPS Board President Ed Sivak noted that when Rowan was closed, students from Midtown were sent to Brinkley High School, which did not score more than Midtown Public.
The lease was re-introduced with amendments at a board meeting on April 19, which board member Robert Lockett wanted to approve, citing support for Midtown residents ’leases. But without the support of other board members, the proposal failed.
With Christy Hendrix, CEO of Midtown Partners, could not be reached for comment, but she said in a letter to the Statutory School Authorization Board that the new premises they will move to Northside Drive were previously used for education, making it easy. transition.
“We were very hopeful that Jackson’s public schools could be leased for the use of one of the two vacant buildings in the area,” Hendrix said in a letter. “Despite the overwhelming support of Midtown residents, the Jackson Public School Board has expressed a desire to leave the building empty rather than allow the charter school to use them.”
Kevin Parkinson, director of Midtown Public, also could not be reached for comment.