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CHARTER MEMBERS

WHEN TWO DPS TEACHERS DECIDED TO OPEN A NEW SCHOOL, THEY DISCOVERED THEY HAD A LOT TO LEARN.

Booth doesn't like that idea, because she thinks the uniforms and programs of her school would set students at odds with those enrolled in standard DPS classes. The Denver Youth Academy postponed its 1994 opening after DPS offered to share a couple of their buildings with the school. "They didn't want anything connected to DPS," boardmember Coleman says. "They felt the image was too negative." The Denver Youth Academy still hopes to open this fall, although it is still searching for a site.

If Thurgood Marshall moves into Ash Grove, Tichenor says, the school will require $1 million in renovation work (Booth pegs that amount at $300,000). Thurgood Marshall supporters "have no idea where their money is coming from," Tichenor continues. "Which means, in the end, that they're counting on taxpayers to foot the bill.

"We're not against the charter-school concept," she says. "But there are better ways that won't disrupt neighborhoods."

And for once, the neighborhood association finds itself in complete agreement with Denver Public Schools: Neither wants any part of Thurgood Marshall.

Last Thursday the dispute over Thurgood Marshall spilled over into Denver District Court, where lawyers for both the school and the school board, as well as an assistant attorney general, faced off over the meaning of the state's charter law.

Also weighing in on behalf of DPS was lawyer Dwight Pringle, who represents taxpayer Sharon Eastlund. Pringle said that Eastlund believes the charter act is unconstitutional and that Thurgood Marshall is too expensive.

For DPS boardmember Coleman, the law is clear. "The state board has no authority over us or our budget," she says. "Local control is at stake, and there's even a question about whether it's constitutional. This is an unfunded mandate. If the state thought this was such a dandy idea, then it should have cut loose the money to go with it...We're constantly being told to reform and then hit with a bunch of new laws that tie us down.

"Charter schools just pull money away from our schools that are trying to be innovative. It's ridiculous."

Not according to Thurgood Marshall's attorney. At last week's hearing, Bornstein asked Judge John Coughlin to grant a preliminary injunction forcing the school district to grant a charter. If a charter isn't granted--and soon--the school may not be able to open this fall.

Students and teachers still must be recruited and selected. And grant proposals can't be written without the assurance that the school will open.

Booth told the court that Thurgood Marshall supporters have dropped out as the wait stretched on. Although she admitted the school's financial picture is hazy, Booth said it hasn't been easy to get grants without an official charter from the school district. If Thurgood Marshall doesn't open this year, she added, it may never open at all.

DPS lawyer Patrick Mooney argued that the state board ordered the local district only to continue negotiating, not grant a charter. "Which we have done until recently," he said.

But beyond that, Mooney said, there are constitutional questions about the charter act, specifically as to whether the state board has the right to, in effect, establish what kind of education goes on in a local district. Colorado law indicates that the state board has general supervisory powers, while local boards set internal policies, he argued.

Mooney's arguments were countered by Assistant Attorney General Bill Thro, representing the state board. Mooney was wrong, he said. The state board did approve the Thurgood Marshall charter last summer and ordered DPS to grant it, not just negotiate with the school's supporters.

In fact, at its March 9 meeting, the state board had voted to have the Colorado attorney general's office intervene in the case. With all the constitutional arguments being raised by DPS, Thro said, there's a good chance Thurgood Marshall will end up a test case in the Colorado Supreme Court.

And those odds got better on Monday, when Judge John Loughlin ordered DPS representatives to sit down with Thurgood Marshall proponents and work out a charter application to be approved by the Denver board at its April meeting.

Booth thinks that decision means her plan for Thurgood Marshall, including the Ash Grove site, will soon be a reality. "It feels good," she says. "Now we can continue on as a real entity."

But DPS lawyer Mooney argues that Loughlin sidestepped the application specifics, such as how much DPS will have to pay and whether it will have to provide a site for the school and pay for any renovations. It may be, he says, that DPS representatives will come up with an application the district "can live with"--and then Thurgood Marshall proponents will have to decide if they will go ahead.

"From listening to him and reading the decision, the judge wasn't telling us that the board has to give in on every point," Mooney says. Until DPS officials see the judge's order, he adds, no decision will be made on whether to appeal.

Such a complicated mess for one simple goal: to teach.
From the sidelines, Danks worries that her original goal has gotten lost.
"For me, it was always a personal issue of wanting to teach in a situation where I felt I could do my job and have a chance of succeeding," she says.

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