Charter school moved ahead with site purchase before vote | Arkansas Blog

Monday, April 21, 2014

Charter school moved ahead with site purchase before vote

Posted By on Mon, Apr 21, 2014 at 10:42 AM

SOLD: A charter school operator has closed on the purchase of this property though it still awaits state approval of the site for the school.
  • SOLD: A charter school operator has closed on the purchase of this property though it still awaits state approval of the site for the school.

No wonder organizers of the Quest charter middle school proposed for western Little Rock reacted unhappily to a recent state Board of Education decision to have a full hearing on the school's request to move the school from a site originally approved on Rahling Road to a cul de sac off Financial Center Parkway just west of I-430.

Responsive Education Solutions, the Texas-based management firm that will run the school, closed on the purchase of the building on Hardin Road March 31, 10 days before a state Board of Education review of a departmental panel's earlier approval of the new site. The Board voted that day, April 10, 6-1 to have a full hearing on the site change rather than accept the panel's recommendation. Diane Zook, aunt of Gary Newton, a Walton-financed charter school lobbyist who led the drive to establish the school, was the only no vote.

The Little Rock and Pulaski County school districts have objected to the new charter school, which is aimed at drawing middle school students from western Little Rock. Chris Heller, attorney for the Little Rock School District, noted reporting by the Arkansas Times that while it was seeking approval for the Rahling Road site, Responsive Education already was in negotiations on a cheaper alternative on Hardin Road. Neighbors have objected that the cul de sac isn't a good location for the school and the traffic it will generate. The new site is near the existing LISA Academy charter middle school and only about two miles from Little Rock's Henderson Middle School, many miles east of the original location in Chenal Valley.

The state Board of Education has scheduled its hearing for May 8, but Quest wants a hearing sooner because it says a delay would make it difficult to open next year. Not to mention that they already own the building, which appears to be a substantial vote of confidence in the ultimate outcome .

At a hearing March 21 when the state panel approved the new location, the Democrat-Gazette reported that the purchase remained contingent on the state’s approval of the change in the charter and receiving any necessary city permits. But county records linked above indicate Responsive Ed was deeded the property from Simmons Bank March 31 and filed a mortgage on the property with a Texas bank the next day though state approval isn't final. I'm also seeking a comment from City Manager Bruce Moore on whether the city has cleared the school plan.

UPDATE: In response to my question, Moore wrote:

No. Still reviewing traffic issues.

Another rhetorical question: Can representations by Responsive Education Solutions be trusted?

I've sent a questioni to Responsive Ed's lawyer about the latest, but he has generally refused to answer questions from the Times.

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