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Posted at 4:40 PM ET, 12/17/2010

For Hyde charter, a long road home

By Bill Turque

A hardy band of students, faculty, parents and city officials huddled in the cold this morning for a ribbon-cutting on the front steps of the new Hyde Leadership Public Charter School.

Beginning next month, the pre-K-12 school, which has spent the last decade at the former Langley Elementary on T St. N.E. will occupy the old DCPS Taft Vocational Center on Perry St. N.E., beautifully renovated at a cost of $18 million. Teachers and students who wore coats in the drafty Langley during the winter toured the building to exult in their fully-wired classrooms, high school-sized gym, state-of-the-art science labs, and dance and pottery studios.

As with many charters, Hyde's path to a permanent home was a tortured one. Unlike traditional public schools that grow out of the city's capital budget, charters are left on their own to lease or finance their buildings. While they receive a per-student facilities allowance from the District, finding appropriate and affordable space, then assembling the capital, is often a long-term proposition.

In the auditorium after the ribbon cutting, founder Joseph Gauld described 10 years of false starts and near misses, including a lease-purchase agreement to occupy part of McKinley High School that fell apart. Joseph Bruno, president of Building Hope, a non-profit that arranges financing for charters, said M&T Bank "led us up to the altar and left us there."

The move to Taft was ultimately pieced together from a variety of sources. A major chunk of the financing ($12.6 million) came through Qualified School Construction Bonds, a part of the Obama stimulus program that allows bond purchasers to receive tax credits in lieu of interest. Hyde also received $2 million from OSSE, $2 million from Building Hope and put in $2 million of its own money. It negotiated a long term lease for Taft from the District.

Access to surplus DCPS buildings such as Taft remains a sore point for District officials and charter advocates. A new glossy brochure put out by FOCUS (Friends of Choice in Urban Public Schools) features color spreads of old school buildings converted into condos, which city officials say is misleading because the all of those projects were products of the Williams administration.

Victor Reinoso, finishing up his stint as deputy mayor for education, told the audience at Hyde that 14 surplus school buildings had been made available to charters on Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's watch. "It is our hope that the next administration will build on our progress," he said.

FOCUS executive director Robert Cane said Reinoso's number was "creative accounting." Cane said the real issue is the city's refusal to follow the law, which he said requires the government to give charter schools right of first choice when school buildings become available. When the city closed 25 traditional public schools at the end of the 2007-2008 academic year, the District kept five, some of which Cane said would have been ideal for charters. City officials say the law allows them to hold the buildings until they decide they serve no further legitimate government use.

Asked why FOCUS has never challenged the city in court if it believes it is right on the law, Cane doesn't have much of an answer. "We probably should have gone to court," he said. But Cane said charter supporters expect incoming mayor Vincent C. Gray to be more charter-friendly than Fenty.

"With Gray as mayor we won't have to go to court," he said.

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By Bill Turque  | December 17, 2010; 4:40 PM ET
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Hyde should have been closed down years ago. It's a cult masquerading as a school.

Posted by: Nemessis | December 18, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

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