A message from our Board Chair
John Rex Charter School | September 8, 2019
An important message from Nathaniel Harding
Dear John Rex parents and families –
As many of you are aware, a change to our contractual relationship with Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS) will occur this fall.
Understandably there are many questions. I’m writing to summarize the context and content of the change. I am also answering FAQs that parents have already submitted. This will help us all be informed as we go about ensuring the continued success of John Rex Charter School.
Quite simply, the structural change in progress is as follows: John Rex will go from having OKCPS being the charter applicant and OU the sponsor (authorizer) to John Rex being the applicant and OKCPS the sponsor (authorizer).
Why the change? OKCPS adopted new policies over the past two years, and our school’s current partnership agreement is not aligned with OKCPS board policy. OKCPS is updating all charter contracts to be consistent and equitable, and to bring all charter schools on the same footing in terms of oversight, contract language and resources provided by the district like rent, utilities, technology and maintenance.
What will NOT change? Our mission will remain. Our curriculum, teacher pay, culture, diversity and self-governance will not change. We will maintain control of those critical elements that define John Rex. These contractual changes will be nearly imperceptible to parents and students. Dr. Pierce will remain Head of School at John Rex. The school will continue to have its own governing board. The buildings will be the same, the teachers will be the same. The student experience will stay the same.
OKCPS is very pleased with John Rex’s performance and believes our board is ready to govern itself in the same manner as other charter schools. Our meetings with district representatives have been very positive. Both John Rex and OKCPS would like to see this structure change approved, with the inclusion of 8th grade in a written contract, by the end of November. We must have a new agreement and contract in place by June 30, 2020 in order to operate and offer all grades. OKCPS has agreed to an expedited review process in order to give our families peace of mind by the end of the calendar year.
Thanks to everybody who has played a role in our success. With your participation we have built a school and a culture that we can be proud of. Below you’ll find a list of FAQs, which we’ll update from time to time through this process.
Chairman, John Rex Board of Directors
Frequently Asked Questions about John Rex Charter School, Inc. and its Relationship with Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS)
- Why does the OKCPS board want these changes if John Rex is considered a successful school?
When OKCPS, Quality Schools, Inc. and John Rex Charter School, Inc. came to agreement back in 2011, their goal was to create an outstanding downtown, neighborhood school. At that time, there were not enough families living downtown to justify OKCPS opening a school in the area. By entering into this partnership, John Rex took on the responsibility to manage the school and attract enough students to fill its downtown school.
Much has changed in the 7+ years since the original agreements were drafted. Now, John Rex has a lottery waiting list and just revised its enrollment policy. When we started, the governing board was all new and needed close oversight. Today, John Rex has a strong leader in Dr. Joe Pierce, and its board is full of outstanding people. John Rex does not need the same level of oversight.
Additionally, OKCPS board policy and leadership require consistency across all of its charter agreements, especially those in OKCPS-owned buildings.
- What are the steps and timeline of this proposed change?
We expect to finish amending our agreement this month and receive approval to proceed from the John Rex board at our Sept. 19 board meeting. The OKCPS staff will then review our application and, if all goes well, we expect the application will be presented as an informational item to the OKCPS board at their October board meeting and for a vote at their November meeting. Following the approval of the amended charter agreement, we will negotiate a charter contract and a lease contract based on OKCPS templates affecting the details of rent, utilities, maintenance, IT, etc. The contract would be approved shortly after the amended agreement. In other words: By December, we expect to have resolution and certainty on offering 8th grade and our new structure.
- Please explain the benefits of OKCPS administering our charter instead of the University of Oklahoma (OU).
The benefit is that John Rex Charter School Inc. will be in complete control of its board, with no more outside appointees. Having OKCPS as John Rex’s sponsor reduces bureaucracy and makes the contracting process easier. Before, John Rex had to gain OKCPS approval and then OKCPS had to seek OU approval for any changes. Also, John Rex will have a 5-year contract instead of the year-to-year contract it has had since 2017.
This is also the best way to secure a permanent 8th grade solution well before enrollment opens up next year. We will have sustainability and certainty by aligning our charter and contract under a long-term arrangement. Lastly, this is the best way to retain our values, mission and operations without interruption or disruption (e.g., as opposed to starting over as a state-chartered school).
- Please provide details of the contract being negotiated between John Rex and OKCPS.
The letter from OKCPS Superintendent Dr. Sean McDaniel letter outlined the terms (see link below). We know substantially from reviewing other charter school and lease contracts recently signed by KIPP OKC and Harding Charter Prep what the new contract terms will be.
- Please explain if OU has been made aware of this change and if they agree.
Yes, OU has been notified by John Rex, and the university understands we must align with OKCPS policy. OU is aware of our progress because two of our non-voting board members are appointed from OU.
- If we have to pay rent, utilities and IT expenses with or without the change, why change?OKCPS board and its policies require that changes be made because our current contract is not aligned with OKCPS policy. OKCPS is the charter holder. Right now, John Rex School Charter School, Inc. is not under a charter agreement; its contract with OKCPS is a management agreement. The change will make John Rex into a full charter organization and will give its governing board independence from OKCPS.
- Is it an option to not change?
No. The current John Rex management contract with OKCPS, and OKCPS being a charter school applicant, is not aligned with OKCPS board policy.
- Who is the title owner of the John Rex elementary building?
OKCPS owns the building. MAPS for Kids allocated funds to build a downtown elementary school. OKCPS worked with John Rex Charter School, Inc. and the MAPS board to design the school and worked in tandem to oversee its construction. OKCPS delegated the management of the school to John Rex Charter School, Inc. in a unique partnership.
OKCPS owns the John Rex elementary building, just like it owns all of the buildings and upgrades paid for by MAPS for Kids, including Martin Luther King Elementary, Caesar Chavez Elementary, Douglass High School, John Marshall High School, etc.
- What about finding another sponsor other than OKCPS?
OKCPS requires all charter schools in OKCPS-owned buildings to be sponsored by OKCPS. The original MAPS for Kids plan was for an OKCPS downtown neighborhood elementary school. Leaving OKCPS would mean leaving our current elementary building. There is not majority support from the John Rex board to leave our building, start over with a completely new facility that will cost more and go through the intensive process of being approved by another sponsor.
- Will John Rex get 8th grade even if it does not allow this change?
No. If John Rex were to decide against accepting these changes, which will allow more freedom for John Rex and are required by OKCPS, not only will there be no 8th grade, there will be no John Rex school. OKCPS would take over the John Rex elementary building and have the authority to determine what would happen to the facility in the fall of 2020.
- Is there the option to delay this by a year and just have OKCPS approve 8th grade and keep OU as the sponsor?
No, there will be not be any extension given. The John Rex board received written notice in April of this year, which is more than the 12 months’ notice required before the June 30, 2020, expiration of our current contract. Upon our last request of a five-year extension, the district renewed for just this year. We must have a contract to run the school to operate any grades.
- Why wasn’t the change made earlier?
When the most recent agreements (between OKCPS and OU, and between OKCPS and John Rex Charter School, Inc.) were about to expire last summer, the OKCPS board voted to extend both contracts through June 30, 2020. Their work on Pathways to Greatness was in full swing, so their board opted not to make substantial changes to the agreements. Adding 8th grade would have been a substantial change. The goal was to keep the contract simple and make sure everything was approved on time. OKCPS is working closely with us to expedite the current process in a way that resembles a charter renewal, which is a process that happens in the fall prior to the beginning of a new contract, rather than requiring John Rex to apply as a completely new charter; that lengthy process would involve a planning year prior to opening.
- Have we explored other options other than OKCPS being the applicant if they back out?
We are confident that OKCPS will not back out. Should John Rex want to be its own charter school and have no affiliation with OKCPS, it will be allowed to keep furnishings and materials paid for with donated funds. Anything paid with government funding – including the building, furniture, etc. – is the property of OKCPS now, and OKCPS would take possession if we went with another applicant.
John Rex would have to form its own charter, find a new location, pay all its startup costs and go through an application process with another authorizer. This process would mean there would be no security for any John Rex families for next school year.
- Can we go back to OU if the change with OKCPS is not beneficial to our students?
- Have you inquired with staff, parents or families to get a feel for what parents want from John Rex?
Toward the end of the last school year, we completed a survey of the John Rex community. We also continue to receive feedback on what our families value. By far the most common responses center around our curriculum, teachers, diversity, culture and autonomy. These will be unchanged in the new agreement.
- Will our boundary change?
Yes. State law says that our Academic Enterprise Zone (AEZ, our “boundary”) must have at least 60% of students living in the zone qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. In 2013, when the boundary was created, it met the 60% threshold. It no longer does. Because the 60% is state law and not an OKCPS policy, we must comply at this time under the new contract. As our school and the downtown community grows, we will periodically re-evaluate our boundary to ensure we have the capacity and are fulfilling the intent of our mission and state law.
OKCPS is working with us to review student-level data and determine options for new attendance zones. We will evaluate each potential zone to see how it impacts enrollment projections and affects current students who live outside the proposed boundary proposals. We will be working diligently to minimize disruptions but, as we did this year, our board may have to look at new enrollment policies or ways to accommodate more students.
- Will our tier system change?
Yes. As part of this change with OKCPS, we will not be able to offer a tier for people who work but don’t live downtown (Tier 3). There will just be Tier 1 (inside boundary) and everybody else within the OKCPS district (Tier 2). However, due to current space limits, we have not offered seats for this “downtown worker” tier (Tier 3) in the past two years.
- What effect will this new relationship have on students who have not been grandfathered into the attendance process?
This new relationship will have no effect on students living in the attendance zone. For those living outside the zone, our board is considering a range of options to ensure that John Rex has enough room for all Tier 1 students and room for our current transfer students. We will continue work with OKCPS to finalize a new attendance zone and the timeframe for implementation. Our grandfathering policy will follow from this and the availability of extra space within our current facilities and possibly by opening new facilities.
- Will OKCPS be able to undo the grandfathered attendance clause?
No, but both our current contract, and any future contract with OKCPS, require John Rex to provide space to all Tier 1 students, regardless how many non-attendance zone students we have. It has been said that John Rex is at or overcapacity, and that is a result of our growing Tier 1 population, children of John Rex staff who are not living in the attendance zone, continuing transfers, and their siblings. Our board determines enrollment policies affecting non-attendance zone students. In our amended application to the district, we will describe our plans for grandfathering existing students.
- Can OKCPS dictate how we pay our teachers?
No, how we hire and pay our teachers will remain up to us.
- Will OKCPS be able to determine what curriculum we use if they want to be uniform across the board?
No, we will control all elements relating to curriculum and pedagogy.
- Will utilities be paid by OKCPS then invoiced to John Rex, or will the bills be directly sent to John Rex?
We will pay the utility companies directly.
- What will be the true financial burden placed on John Rex, including estimated monthly rent and utilities?
For the next three years, we anticipate it will cost John Rex approximately $150,000 more than under the current agreement, plus the costs of mechanical and maintenance, which John Rex has always been contractually responsible for. The additional costs account for about 3% of John Rex’s estimated expenses for the 2020-2021 school year.
- How are we getting the funds to pay for all this additional cost?
John Rex is fortunate to be a school with a growing enrollment. Additional students provide additional government funding. Currently John Rex receives about $5,350 per student from state and federal sources. The added $150,000 (3% budget increase) is equivalent to about 28 additional students. With additional students there may be incremental costs that will be funded through additional fundraising and reallocating expenses within our annual budget. The Head of School is preparing a proposed budget and will identify if any program changes or cuts are necessary.
- Does this impact our ability to seek grants and donations? Can we still dictate where those funds are allocated?
Our ability to fundraise and allocation of those funds will remain unchanged.
- What OKCPS programming will John Rex be required to complete? Will it include Title I budgeting, school-wide free breakfast and lunch, administrative meetings, professional development, school calendar, etc.?
That will all remain at our discretion. We will continue to apply for our own funding from federal programs as we have done in the past. Our administrative team’s responsibilities, our professional development plans and our school calendar will not be impacted by the change and will remain a site decision.
- Will OKCPS provide stronger Special Education and Gifted Education supports if the district becomes the authorizer?
No. John Rex is solely responsible for its own implementation of Special Education and Gifted Education in accordance with federal and state law.
- Will the change affect our ability to get a high school at some point?
Yes, it will improve our chances to get a high school at a future date, if deemed appropriate. Extending John Rex through high school will not be part of this agreement or contract. However, the legal framework and long-term alignment with OKCPS will be set in place to enable adding a high school in subsequent years.
- Will our board structure change?
Yes. Our new board will have nine members appointed by the existing John Rex Charter School, Inc. board. There will no longer be appointments made by OKC Quality Schools or OKCPS. Currently we have six members appointed by non-profit OKC Quality Schools, six from OKCPS, three who are appointed by those 12, and another two non-voting members from OU, totaling 17. What will remain the same is we’ll still have a mix of community leaders representing different skill sets and backgrounds, as well as approximately one-third to nearly half parents.
- Will OKCPS be able to keep its current number of board spots? If the district is forced to give up the board seats they currently hold as the sponsor of the charter, then can they determine who is appointed to the board?
Along with the rest of our current board, OKCPS’s current six board appointees will be part of the process for nominating and approving the new board members. After that, OKCPS will have no part in John Rex governance.
How can I help?
The best way to help is to support our various fundraising efforts. Whether through the PTA or other fundraising events, reach out to your employer and contacts about opportunities to be involved. Some parents would like to write a letter to OKCPS. This can be helpful when you focus on why you love John Rex and why you chose to be part of our community.
I know these changes are causing anxiety among some parents. Please refrain from spreading rumors or making speculative guesses about what the John Rex board/OKCPS board will do. If you have any questions, please contact our board directly at email@example.com.
Remember that these changes will benefit John Rex Charter School, Inc. They will provide John Rex with control over its own governance.
We are a great community and a unique downtown, neighborhood school. That will not change. Our goal is to work collaboratively with OKCPS so that our charter application is approved expeditiously, and our contract can be finalized soon thereafter.