CORVALLIS — A dispute between an Oregon charter school and the local school district offers some insights into the complex and sometimes tense relationship between charter schools and their sponsoring districts.
After the Philomath School Board voted to close Kings Valley School in early 2001 because of budgetary reasons, community members rallied to save the small, rural school.
In September 2001, Kings Valley Charter School opened its doors. With the support of the Philomath School District, it has thrived. The district provided more funding than required by state law and added high school grades.
A decade later, that relationship has grown strained.
This past summer, Kings Valley sued the district, arguing it had withheld some of the money it was owed because of its status as a rural school. The district accused the school of violating its charter and issued a notice to terminate the charter.
For three months, they have met to try to resolve their issues, but they are far from an agreement.
Scio School District Superintendent Gary Tempel tells The Corvallis Gazette-Times that no matter the relationship between districts and charter schools, there’s always some inherent tension.
“It’s a parent-child relationship," Tempel said. “Sometimes I don’t think they always like that, especially when they are trying to grow."
Oregon’s charter school law was passed in May 1999. Oregon was the 38th state to enact such a law.
Enrollment and funding are common points of contention.
The conflict between Kings Valley and the Philomath School District, for example, hinges on an interpretation of a bill passed by the Legislature in 2011 that gives extra money to the district to support rural schools.
Kings Valley officials say they should receive all the money. Philomath School District officials say they have the discretion to choose how to distribute the money.
The district has accused the school of violating its charter agreement by getting permission to contract with a nonprofit group to hire teachers outside the state system to avoid paying into the Public Employees Retirement System.
Mark Hazelton, director of Kings Valley Charter School, says some of the tension might be rooted in resentment.
“It’s a lot of work for a district to sponsor a charter school, especially in the beginning. There’s processes and timelines they have to follow. Nobody likes having to do more work when they are already working hard," he said.
A common theme emerges when talking to charter school and district officials: The importance of talking with and listening to each other.
“That openness to share information with each other is crucial," Bogatin said. “We count on them and they count on us. Working together is the only way to make sure students’ needs are met."