GALVESTON — Two city charter schools will leave the city at the end of the school year, after the charter program and the Galveston Independent School District were unable to come to an agreement over funding.
The KIPP Coastal Village Primary School and KIPP Coastal Village Middle School will no longer be charter schools when school begins next fall, officials announced Friday.
The primary school, 721 10th St., and the middle school, 1120 21st St., will remain open, but will now be managed by the school district. The schools will be renamed Coastal Village Primary and Coastal Village Secondary.
The split was described as amicable by officials from both KIPP and the school district. They pointed to cuts that were made to education funding by the Texas legislature in 2011 and only partly restored in 2013 as the major reason for the funding troubles.
“GISD has been a fan of KIPP and remains a fan of KIPP,” said Superintendent Larry Nichols. “Right now, we’re at a place where we have to look at the future, and the future doesn’t seem to work. The funding gap is too much.”
The district paid KIPP more than $5 million this past year, Nichols said. It would have paid $1.5 million less had it operated the charter schools as regular schools, he said.
The school district has drawn $6 million from its reserves during the past four years to pay KIPP to operate the charter schools, he said.
After the 2011 state cuts, KIPP agreed to take less money per student to try to keep the program alive. This year, however, KIPP officials said the program could no longer operate the way it was intended to with the decreased funding.
“We’d have to make so many changes, it would no longer be KIPP,” Mike Feinberg, one of the co-founders of the program, said. “At that point we would be overpromising and underdelivering to our parents and children. If they came to school every day thinking they were coming to KIPP, but that’s not what they were getting, that would be worse.”
Officials said they had hoped that a grant would be approved to help pay for the continued partnership, but after it was awarded to another district, the decision to end the partnership was inevitable.
KIPP came to Galveston in 2009 as a charter school for students from prekindergarten to first grade. It has since grown to serve students up to eighth grade. While most of the students are from Galveston, some came from Santa Fe, Hitchcock and Texas City. The partnership was seen as a way to quickly provide quality education on the island after Hurricane Ike.
The program is largely focused on serving low-income, minority students. The schools use a different curriculum from the rest of district, do not dismiss classes until 5:30 p.m., have some Saturday classes and have a longer school year.
According to the Texas Education Agency, 81 percent of the students enrolled at the primary school and 87 percent from the middle school were economically disadvantage in the 2012-13 school year, meaning they were eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
In the most recent state accountability ratings, the primary school was rated “improvement required.”
Officials downplayed that rating Friday, pointing out that the campus missed on one bench mark by one point. In the category of “closing performance gaps” the target score is 55. The school scored 54.
“We took it as an outlier blip on what otherwise has been a good trajectory of the schools,” Feinberg said.
There are questions about what’s to come for the schools.
Nichols said that the district is open to hiring KIPP’s teachers and administrators to keep operations at the Coastal Village schools as unchanged as possible. Human resource officials from the school district were meeting with KIPP employees Friday to discuss their options.
“We can’t just say that everybody that worked for KIPP works for us,” he said. “We have to go through a process. The current teachers at KIPP are going to be given a very good shot at these positions.”
Feinberg said KIPP will continue to offer to support its employees, either by helping them find positions in other KIPP schools or by providing continuing education to teachers that choose to stay in Galveston.
One KIPP employee reached Friday said the staffs at the school were still processing the news, which they learned two days ago.
“We’re all a little surprised,” said Cherie Spencer, an assistant principal at the primary school. “We are saddened that the relationship didn’t work out.”
Spencer said that she intended to stay in Galveston, even without knowing exactly what changes the school would undergo.
“My concern right now is for the families,” Spencer said. “I want them to really know that even though KIPP is gone that we’re still here. I want some kind of consistency for them.”
Spencer said that students (called KIPPsters) were aware that changes are coming at the school, with some even suggesting a candy fundraiser to help save the program.
Any KIPP student that wishes to continue participating in a KIPP program will be guaranteed placement in one of KIPP’s Houston-area schools. KIPP operates about 20 other schools within the Houston area, though the next closest school to Galveston is about 50 miles from the island.
Ali Sperka, a former member of the primary school’s parent teacher organization and parent of three KIPP students, said didn’t know how many parents would take advantage of that offer.
“I think it’d be nice if they had a transportation offer,” Sperka said. “I don’t know that very many people will do that.”
Students attending the Coastal Village schools will continue to be enrolled in those schools, unless they choose to change schools through the district’s school choice program. The deadline for school choice applications is Feb. 20. Nichols said be of the late announcement of the KIPP changes, that deadline might be extended, though no decision had been made as of Friday afternoon.