Sunday, February 11, 2007

The ODE announces it plans to close down Connection Academy in 2010

It's been a few days; I've been fighting some battles.

Remember the Connections Academy, Oregon's only virtual charter school? There's a bill in the legislature, HB 2037, which would remove the provision passed late last session in a teacher union power play that required virtual charter schools to get 50% of their students from inside their sponsoring district boundaries.

When the bill passed in 2005, the Oregon Connections Academy had already been created. The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) told Republican legislators that Connections Academy would be grandfathered from this provision.

So, t.The school started that next fall with 700 students, and is now in year two with 1500 students. Things seemed fine.

But in testimony over HB 2037, Randy Harnisch from the ODE said that the grandfather status will only last until the Connection Academy's initial charter contract expires and is renewed. At that point, according to Harnisch, Connection Academy would have to comply with the 50% provision.

Of course they know it is impossible. Connections would simply close, and the millions invested would be gone. And thousands of families would have their school taken from them.

Harnisch was testifying to the House Education Innovations Subcommittee when he delivered this news. I was in back of the room, waiting to testify. My jaw dropped when he said this, because just a few short months ago I sat in Harnisch's office and asked him directly what the ODE's position on Connection's grandfather status, and specifically asked him if expiration and renewal would have any effect on it.

Harnisch said he didn't know and that they were going to ask the attorney general's office (which is what they do every time they are looking for legal cover for a position they want to take.) That answer made me nervous.

So imagine my surprise when Harnisch told the legislature that not only would the grandfather status expire when the first contract expired (2010) but that this was the ODE's position from the start!

What a stinking liar! On the record! In a legislative committee hearing!

When it was my turn to testify I called Harnsich out. I told the committee about my direct question to him just last August. And I pointed out that if that was indeed the ODE's position, they might have bothered to tell Connections Academy that their school had a five year life, because they might have an interest in knowing that all the time and money they were planning on investing was going to go bye bye.

You may remember last August when the ODE tried to shut down Connections Academy by freezing their funds unless they made a technical change to their enrollment policy, the legislature was so angered by the way the ODE treated the school that the E-Board unanimously voted to send a stern letter of rebuke to Susan Castillo, telling her, among other things, to do a better job of communicating with the school.

Five months later, the ODE says they are going to shut down the Connections Academy in 2010, and they never bothered to communicate this little detail to the school??!!

Guess the people in charge of the state's schools don't learn all that quickly.


Anonymous said...

It's all about the kids. What a bunch of screaming assholes.

Bonehead said...

Hi Rob- Have you been following ORCA's bid to be permanently grandfathered in? There was a reading a couple weeks ago at ODE and I guess it's up for discussion in January when the Legislature reconvenes. I've appreciated your opinions in posts past, and wondered if you had any thoughts on this...

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