Home Credit inquiry JPS refuses lease of unused building at Midtown Charter School

JPS refuses lease of unused building at Midtown Charter School

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Following an unsuccessful attempt to lease a building from the Jackson Public School District, Midtown Public Charter School will be moving out of the Midtown neighborhood to a building near the intersection of Northside Drive and I-55 for the next school year.

The Charter School Authorizer Board approved the move on Tuesday.

Midtown Public, first opened in 2015, currently serves 240 students in grades 5 through 8, according to the Mississippi Department of Education. Midtown Partners, the charter school’s operators, attempted to lease Rowan Middle School, which closed in 2017. The building briefly housed an alternative GED program, but has been vacant for several years.

Charter schools are free public schools that are not under the jurisdiction of a school board, as traditional public schools do. Instead, they are governed by the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board. These schools are controversial among traditional public school supporters because they provide more flexibility to teachers and administrators regarding student instruction and are funded by local school districts based on enrollment.

This was the point of contention between JPS supporters and officials. This school year alone, JPS donated $888,747.60 to the school. If the district allowed Midtown to rent out one of its unused buildings, it could recoup funds with rent and any repairs the charter school was willing to make. But the reason Midtown came up with a decision was to increase enrollment, which ultimately means JPS would pay the school more money in future school years.

JPS School Board members raised a number of concerns about the proposed lease when it was presented at an April 5 board meeting, including the amount of rent payments and the processes for maintenance repairs and a possible reauthorization of the lease.

The charter school reportedly paid $78,000 a year in the lease and about $115,000 in proposed repairs. Some board members have lobbied for a higher rental amount, but state law prohibits public school districts from charging above the market value of the property.

There was also a discussion among board members about the broader merits of the charter school system, which Superintendent Errick Greene said should not be confused with the current lease issue.

“Whether Midtown, the charter school, should exist or not, should operate in Jackson, Mississippi or not, is a valid discussion and an issue that I am sure is ripe for a broader movement and a lobbying around the law that allows it to be,” Greene said. , but we have an organization standing in front of us right now with dollars that we know they have because they’re going through us and going to them, and an opportunity to get some of those dollars back.

Board member Cynthia Thompson said she felt they didn’t need to take the first offer that came along and suggested recruitment proposals to use the space for other purposes . She also expressed frustration with the design of the charter school system more broadly.

“I understand the constraints given to us as a neighborhood to follow. But it’s hard to play ball when the other person doesn’t have to follow those rules,” she said.

At the next board meeting on April 19, nine people came to speak with two-thirds opposed to hiring Rowan.

Ronica Smith, a parent of two Midtown Public students who came to speak in favor of the lease, said her children have done well and have been excited to learn since they’ve been there.

“Midtown is a good school. If you give Midtown a chance to get Rowan, you’re all going to see, it’s going to blossom,” she said.

Other community members cited Midtown’s low test results as a concern with the issuance of the lease, which was also under investigation by the state.

“We live in a state that has historically underfunded the education of black children, and continues to do so while simultaneously increasing funding for entities such as Midtown Public Charter Schools, which have done a poor job of best educate black children, scoring in the bottom ten percent of Mississippi schools,” said a man who spoke in the public comment section at the meeting.

JPS Board Chairman Ed Sivak pointed out that when Rowan was closed, Midtown students were instead sent to Brinkley Middle School, which does not fare better than Midtown Public.

The lease was resubmitted with changes at the April 19 board meeting, which council member Robert Luckett moved to approve, citing Midtown residents’ support for the lease. But due to lack of support from other board members, the proposal fell through.

Kristi Hendrix, the executive director of Midtown Partners, could not be reached for comment, but said in a letter to the Charter School Authorizer Board that the new facility they will be moving to off Northside Drive was previously used for the education, making it an easy transition.

“We were very hopeful that a lease could be secured with Jackson Public Schools for the use of one of their two vacant buildings for the neighborhood,” Hendrix said in the letter. “Despite overwhelming support from Midtown residents, the Jackson Public School Board has expressed its desire to leave the building vacant instead of allowing a charter school to use them.”

Kevin Parkinson, director of Midtown Public, also could not be reached for comment.

— Article credit to Julia James of Mississippi Today —