charter school on hold after injunction
Downtown office tenants don’t want student neighbors
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.”