Charter school lands more time in fight against closure

Leaders of The Project School in Indianapolis will get another chance to state their case for keeping the school open after winning a restraining order late Tuesday.

Mayor Greg Ballard announced July 17 that he planned to revoke the school's charter due to poor test scores and financial issues, but the school balked at the decsion in a formal response three days later and filed for an injunction Monday to stop the revocation.

Ballard, however, emphasized that decision Tuesday afternoon by issuing a "final notice of charter revocation" to the school after hearing its response.

"After thoughtful and careful consideration of the school's July 20, 2012 response, it was determined the school did not meet the standards established for Mayor-sponsored charter schools," the mayor said in a prepared statement. "Therefore, The Project School's charter is hereby revoked, effective immediately."

But later Tuesday, Project School supporters won a temporary restraining order from Marion Superior Court Judge John Hanley that will stop the mayor's revocation until the court can rule on the injunction. The judge scheduled a hearing Monday morning to hear the case.

“If this decision to revoke The Project School’s charter stands, it will be a tremendous loss to our students, their families and our local neighborhood,” said Daniel Baron, president of the school’s board, in a written statement coinciding with the Monday court filing.

Baron said Tuesday morning that school leaders were confident a fair review would show that the mayor’s staff has misunderstood the school's academic progress and misrepresented its financial status.

The 4-year-old school, which is publicly funded, has never seen more than 30 percent of its students pass both the math and reading portions of the state standardized ISTEP test.

This year, the passage rate for the school’s 311 students in grades K-8 was 28.9 percent, according to data released this month by the Indiana Department of Education.

“The Project School ranks among the worst performing schools in Marion County and in the entire state,” Ballard said July 17 in a prepared statement. He added that the school’s 2012 academic results likely would produce an “F” grade under the state’s new accountability standards.

But school leaders argued in their response that it was chartered as a non-traditional program with a mission to teach some of the state’s most troubled children, and that the school’s approach is working.

They cited statistics that show all students in the fourth and eighth grades who have been at the school for at least three years passed the English and math portions of the ISTEP test. The school did not say how many students that included.

The mayor’s intial notice of revocation claims The Project School has run a deficit in each of the last three years and now has accumulated nearly $5.3 million in debt. The notice also stated that the school delayed paying its staff this month by one week because it had so little cash on hand.

School leaders, however, asserted that The Project School does not have a negative cash balance, but actually has a surplus.

The mayor’s “incorrect” assessment was based, in part, on the fact the school “depreciated” the value of a portion of the building it owns. Thus, the mayor’s office apparently considered the “depreciation” a hard-dollar expense when it was actually an accounting label and not a real cash cost to the school, they said.

The school is located at 1145 E. 22nd St.

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