Testimony of Deborah Grill to the Board of Education, February 28, 2019

First and foremost: You cannot afford to approve any more charters. Charter costs are the fastest growing line item in the District’s budget. You must vote no on all three applications.

Including stranded costs, these three new charters alone would cost the District and additional $161 million over the next 5 years. How many District students are you going to continue to deprive of resources, including classes in the arts, to allow three more charter management companies to increase and profit from their real estate holdings, because that is what seems to be the driving reason behind these applications.

It especially struck me as I looked at String Theory’s application for The Joan Myers Brown Academy, attended the hearings, and read the CSO evaluation. It is clear that String Theory did not take this application seriously or it would have been more thorough. It seemed like String Theory thought it could rely on its political connections, the District’s fear of appeals and the stellar reputation of Joan Myers Brown. Education was just an afterthought.

For example, wouldn’t an organization whose mission is to educate children, first and foremost, include a complete curriculum for each subject?

Wouldn’t a school named after a distinguished dancer and purporting to focus on the performing arts include curricula for the performing arts and at least one dance teacher position in the budget?

Wouldn’t an applicant that states that there is a vital need and support for its school in a community present a thorough analysis of the community’s needs and include intent to enroll forms signed by interested parents?

Wouldn’t a organization that purports to offer an outstanding education spend more to to educate students than to pay down its real estate debt? String Theory spends one-third of its operating budget on debt and building costs for its existing school and has had to cut course offerings and student transportation due to that debt. String Theory owes its real estate acquisition corporation, DeMedici II, a total of a $130 million—a debt that will not be paid off until 2043.

String Theory intends to charge the Joan Myers Brown Academy a higher management fee then its existing schools while providing fewer services. I suspect that it needs this new school to help pay off the debt on its existing school. String Theory states that it will lease the proposed facility with intent to buy. Will it then have to open another charter school to pay off the debt incurred by that purchase? When will this end?

I don’t have enough time to go into the political connections of String Theory’s founding coalition or the conflict of interest concerning the proposed Board members who are also on the board of String Theory’s existing school as well as on the board of the DeMedici II Corporation, or any of the many other concerns I have about this application.

I only have time to urge you to put the needs of the students in the District’s existing public schools before the monetary needs of charter corporations.