char­ter school on hold af­ter in­junc­tion

Down­town of­fice ten­ants don’t want stu­dent neigh­bors

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Melissa B. Taboada AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN STAFF

With less than a month be­fore school starts, a char­ter school with an em­pha­sis on me­dia arts and civics ed­u­ca­tion now needs a new place to teach its stu­dents.

School of­fi­cials last spring spent $100,000 in ren­o­va­tions on its down­town cam­pus, the en­tire fifth floor of an of­fice build­ing at 11th Street and San Jac­into Boule­vard. It’s a sprawl­ing glass-walled space with desks and com­put­ers po­si­tioned so that stu­dents get views of the Capi­tol a block away.

But the 303 Of­fice Con­do­mini­ums Own­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, which has con­trol over how the build­ing is op­er­ated, has filed for an in­junc­tion to keep iS­chool from open­ing.

In court fil­ings, the as­so­ci­a­tion said hous­ing a school there could cause in­surance rates to go up and will be a nui­sance to other busi­nesses in the build­ing. To date, there have been no in­surance pre­mium in­creases at­trib­ut­able to the school, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

Nei­ther rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the 303 Of­fice Con­do­mini­ums Own­ers As­so­ci­a­tion nor its at­tor­ney re­turned calls for com­ment.

State District Judge Jeff Rose last week ver­bally granted the tem­po­rary in-

Con­tin­ued from A1 junc­tion, said Chris Baumann, a lawyer for Re­spon­sive Ed­u­ca­tion So­lu­tions, the par­ent com­pany for iS­chool High of Austin. The school’s mo­tion for a re­hear­ing was de­nied on Tues­day.

iS­chool High rented the space in Jan­uary from the build­ing’s land­lord, Olive Grove Part­ners, which at one time owned more than half of the build­ing, in­clud­ing the fifth floor.

Cam­pus di­rec­tor Michael Lopez said Re­spon­sive Ed­u­ca­tion chose the lo­ca­tion, 1011 San Jac­into Blvd., be­cause of its prox­im­ity to the Capi­tol. Stu­dents would get an up-close look at how govern­ment works, and school of­fi­cials would have easy ac­cess to state of­fi­cials to es­tab­lish govern­ment and other in­tern­ships.

The cur­ricu­lum calls for stu­dents to fo­cus on project-based learn­ing and to be in­volved in ser­vice projects, such as iden­ti­fy­ing a prob­lem or is­sue in their com­mu­ni­ties and work­ing with an or­ga­ni­za­tion to tackle those is­sues.

“We are treat­ing this cam­pus as a col­lege prep school,” Lopez said. “We can­not ex­clude any type of stu­dent but … we’re an­tic­i­pat­ing more cre­ative, driven stu­dents.”

Char­ter schools are pri­vately man­aged pub­lic schools that re­ceive state fund­ing. Re­spon­sive Ed­u­ca­tion runs a high school in Lewisville, near Fort Worth, that earned the high­est rat­ing, “ex­em­plary,” un­der the state’s aca­demic ac­count­abil­ity sys­tem in 2009. Its Premier High School in North Austin was rated “aca­dem­i­cally ac­cept­able.”

State funds help tra­di­tional pub­lic schools build and pay for fa­cil­i­ties, but char­ter schools get no such aid and lack the tax­ing author­ity of pub­lic school dis­tricts. Last week, the State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion voted to ded­i­cate $100 mil­lion of the Per­ma­nent School Fund, cre­ated in 1876 as a pub­lic school en­dow­ment, to de­vel­op­ing and leas­ing build­ings for char­ter schools.

Lopez, who had hired four staff mem­bers and re­cruited a hand­ful of stu­dents, told em­ploy­ees that they may not have jobs any­more if they can’t quickly find other suit­able space. Lopez said the school may have to move into space oc­cu­pied by Premier on Kramer Lane.

iS­chool taught classes at the down­town lo­ca­tion in May for three stu­dents from the north lo­ca­tion who were in­ter­ested in at­tend­ing school down­town in Au­gust. The school can en­roll up to 100 stu­dents.

In court fil­ings, Ken McCraw, pres­i­dent of the condo as­so­ci­a­tion, said that the as­so­ci­a­tion’s dec­la­ra­tion, es­sen­tially its by­laws, bars busi­nesses “that in the rea­son­able judg­ment of the board of di­rec­tors might be con­sid­ered as an­noy­ing to per­sons of or­di­nary sen­si­bil­i­ties or re­duc­ing the de­sir­abil­ity of the project for of­fice or busi­ness use.”

The dec­la­ra­tion does not specif­i­cally ban schools from leas­ing space. McCraw works as the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Texas As­so­ci­a­tion of Com­mu­nity Schools, which rep­re­sents school dis­tricts with no more than one cam­pus, court doc­u­ments show.

Sev­eral of the build­ing’s oc­cu­pants said in af­fi­davits that they needed to main­tain a pro­fes­sional en­vi­ron­ment.

“Our abil­ity to se­cure new busi­ness is de­pen­dent upon a pro­fes­sional am­bi­ence and fa­vor­able im­pres­sion by the chief of­fi­cers with whom we meet,” said Jeff Mont­gomery, pres­i­dent of The Ampersand Agency, which oc­cu­pies part of the third floor. Mont­gomery said his com­pany pre­vi­ously was housed in the same build­ing as the Austin Busi­ness School.

“Ampersand left its pre­vi­ous lo­ca­tion be­cause the owner of that build­ing chose to lease a floor to a busi­ness school. … The school as­sured us that their pres­ence would not af­fect the level of pro­fes­sion­al­ism at the build­ing,” Mont­gomery said in the af­fi­davit. “How­ever, the 75-150 stu­dents who at­tended were far from pro­fes­sional and so dis­rup­tive to the en­vi­ron­ment that it be­come im­pos­si­ble to host client meet­ings at our of­fice there.”

Suzanne Pfeif­fer, a part­ner of Stream Realty Part­ners, which has leased space to two Har­mony Sci­ence char­ter school lo­ca­tions, said in the af­fi­davit that busi­nesses are re­luc­tant to lease space ad­ja­cent to schools. “Noise and school ac­tiv­i­ties dis­rupt busi­ness on ei­ther side of the schools.”

Har­mony’s Austin cam­puses en­roll stu­dents in sixth through 12th grades.

Elaine Roth said Tues­day that her 16-year-old daugh­ter Jamie, who at­tended the May classes, and other iS­chool stu­dents would be busy en­gaged in learn­ing, “not run­ning around like an­i­mals.”

“It was near the Capi­tol, and they had planned a lot of things around those op­por­tu­ni­ties, field trips and all,” Roth said. “She was re­ally ex­cited about it. There’s a dif­fer­ent en­ergy there. We were ex­cited about the lo­ca­tion, not just the school.”

Roth said the need for the school to find a new lo­ca­tion is “to­tally un­fair and re­ally dis­ap­point­ing.”

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