Tuesday, December 06, 2011

This is Headed Straight for a Lawsuit

RIDE, via Angela Romans (in email):

In conducting a lottery for students from more than one city or town, the same number of enrollments must be offered to each of those students. The AF application posits a proportion of students from each community based on population solely for sample budget projections and does not/will not establish limits or caps on any given community. The lottery will be open to all four communities with equal opportunity to be chosen by lottery.

OK, let's refresh our memory on the statute:

"A 'mayoral academy' means a charter school created by a mayor of any city or town within the State of Rhode Island, acting by or through a nonprofit organization established for said purpose... which enrolls students from more than one city or town including both urban and non-urban communities and which offers an equal number of enrollments to students on a lottery basis..."

Most importantly, RIDE's new interpretation is in direct contradiction to the way the first mayoral academy was implemented at Democracy/Blackstone Valley Prep. At that school, each community gets an equal number of enrollments. Is RIDE arguing that Blackstone Valley Prep has operated in violation of RI charter school law for two and a half years under their supervision?

The "equal number per community" interpretation was not in question until this application was submitted. For example, On May 2, 2011, AF's Director of Marketing and Communications, Mel Ochoa, emailed the following to me regarding the Cranston Application:

"I have an update on numbers in recent posts related to the 75% of students coming from Providence and 25% from Cranston. I believe you got these numbers from the budget document submitted in the exhibits -- I don't think we specified a ratio in the narrative of the application. Each mayoral academy must offer seats on an equal basis (equal enrollment) from the cities and towns that it serves, as stated in the mayoral academy statute. I don’t say this to be argumentative … more to share the context. For example, Blackstone Valley Prep offers 25% enrollment from each community.

We are going to resubmit the appropriate language to make sure it is reflected in the budget -- 50% from Providence and 50% from Cranston."

Further, RIDE, RIMA and AF all thought the issue was important enough in May to go ahead with an extraordinary revision to the Cranston application after it had been approved by RIDE and the public comment period had begun.

The rest of the current AF proposal is not consistent with RIDE's "same number of enrollments must be offered to each of those students" and " equal opportunity to be chosen by lottery" interpretation because the application also states in Part XII:


RIDE's response does duck the issue somewhat -- nobody would propose community caps or limits -- the question is whether each community is reserved an equal number of seats, which at BVP are filled by students from other towns if there aren't enough applicants.

RIDE also seems to be claiming that the entire "equal number of enrollments" clause has no real significance and reflects no legislative intent, because they are in effect arguing that the admissions policy of a mayoral academy is no different than that of an independent charter school, whose definition contains no similar "equal number" clause.

I am not a lawyer but I am a former English teacher, so I'll continue with some textual analysis, but the above should be sufficient to win the argument, especially if backed up by a round of Public Records Act requests and/or subpoenas.

OK, "which offers an equal number of enrollments to students on a lottery basis" could be clearer, but I would argue that "an equal number of enrollments to students (from each community) on a lottery basis" is the only one that makes sense. As described above, it has already been used, everyone agreed on the meaning. In a school with 176 kindergarten spots for 4 communities, there would be 44 offered to the students of each town, selected by lottery if necessary. Regardless of who wins the lottery, the town has 44 spots.

RIDE is arguing that the statue really means "an equal number of enrollments to (each of those) students on a lottery basis." Fair enough. I have a daughter that will be starting kindergarten in a few years. How many enrollments will she be offered? 176? Can she enroll 176 times? One enrollment? Are we to believe that the legislature inserted that clause to remind us that each student can only be enrolled once? Except if you don't win the lottery, in which case you are offered an enrollment of 0? Which is equal to 1?

One could also argue that it means "an equal number of enrollments to (all eligible students) on a lottery basis" but that doesn't make much sense either. Equal to what?

Beyond the semantic analysis, the most pertinent immediate argument is this: both this proposal and BVP cannot both be valid mayoral academies. It has to be one or the other.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Tom,

While I agree there's a problem with how the AF application is worded, I wonder how critical it is to the fight against mayoral academies. For example:

1) Will there be enough momentum to bring a lawsuit against AF over contractual semantics?

2) RIDE was involved in creating the mayoral academy statute and is involved in the AF application process. How hard would it be for them to alter one or the other to suit their needs? Haven't they done it before?

3) There are plenty of reasons why the current education reform movement is terrible. The inability to draft a logically consistent mayoral academy application must be pretty low on the totem pole. A person with as much knowledge of RI education policies as you should be trying to fry some bigger fish. This reminds me of the pursuit of the perfect vintage baseball belt... when there were such huge gaps in rule adherence, playing styles and basic equipment. :)

Maybe we just need to build off of this and generate a more solid case against RIDE. Here's something I posted on my blog a while back:

The divide and conquer strategy of the education deformers seems to be working. A complaint was recently filed with the state attorney general’s office to investigate the [Bristol-Warren] Joint Finance Committee to determine whether they violated open meeting laws: http://www.eastbayri.com/detail/143447.html

Although the towns have historically underfunded education, they aren’t to blame for BWRSD’s sudden crisis. It’s unfortunate that, while local residents are pointing fingers at one another, the real culprits are being let off the hook. After analyzing the education funding formula, I found numerous statistical flaws and concluded that part of it may have been doctored in order to benefit a single district. Counterintuitively, the poverty factor’s presence within the state share ratio calculation had a negative effect on almost every district… And only Newport benefited substantially from this “error”.

My suspicions were later confirmed when a former state represenative told me the formula was tweaked to get the backing of the senate president whose district happens to include Newport. Such a blatantly discriminatory formula (which also intentionally undercuts regionalized districts) is what really demands an investigation!