May 28, 2019
Dear President Wilkerson and Members of the Board,
We are writing to you about the impending sale of a District owned building to the operators of Belmont Charter School.
The first public disclosure of the proposed sale of 4030 Brown Street came at the May 16 Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting. Apparently the District had already entered into negotiations with Michael Karp and the other members of the Board of Belmont Charter. Belmont has made an offer of $2.8 million, of which the District would net about $1 million.
Belmont’s operators have told the District that it will be creating a non-profit that would buy the property and lease it to Belmont. Should the sale be approved, the Board of Education would be assisting this charter in creating yet another circular lease agreement, common in the charter sector, by which the charter’s financial partners can further insulate themselves from District oversight.
What we did not hear was any reason why the District should sell this public property.
Is it only because that is what Belmont’s operators want?
Belmont Charter refused to sign its new charter when it came up for renewal in 2017. The Charter Schools Office at that time recommended that the school be “ renewed with conditions” despite the fact that Belmont failed to meet standards in all three major categories, received a “Does Not Meet” citation in Academics, and was out of compliance in several categories. (Belmont Charter serves grades K-10, but the 2017 renewal evaluation only included grades K-8.) Belmont Board Chair Michael Karp indicated in his 2017 testimony that his school would not be accepting any conditions, which were never released to the public.
At the Finance and Facilities Committee meeting, it was revealed that Belmont has now agreed to sign its charter in order to pave the way for sale of the property.
CSO staff testified at that meeting that Belmont had improved in the last two years, although the CSO has not updated the 2017 renewal evaluation. Actually, the most recent ACE (which states that Belmont serves grades K-9) shows Belmont failing to meet or exceed District schools in most metrics. Belmont’s SPR Achievement scores place them in the Intervene category for the past three years. At the Student Achievement Committee later that day, the CSO stated that Belmont was now being recommended for a 5-year renewal, with no mention of why the conditions had been dropped.
It is clear that more than one department in the District has been working to put things in place so that the wishes of Belmont’s board to be renewed and to buy the 4030 Brown Street would be granted. The CSO, under the direction of the Board, has worked out a settlement for the renewal of the charter. That would indicate that the Board has already made a decision in this matter.
The sale of this property to Belmont’s operators would set a dangerous precedent. It would open the doors to other Renaissance charter operators who have occupied public buildings for years to then have the District sell those buildings to them.
We urge the Board to stop the sale of 4030 Brown Street.