PILLAGER -- PEAKS Charter School Board members and school founders Bruce and Kathy Martin will meet Thursday in an attempt to renegotiate the $5,338-per-month lease for a four-bedroom farm house and outbuildings, which some have criticized as excessive.
A school board committee will meet with the Martins at 8 a.m. Thursday at the Pillsbury Plaza's coffee shop.
That news came Tuesday night as the board also deliberated its response to Minnesota Children, Families and Learning, which last week told the board it had overcharged the state's pupil-aid revenue by $148,000. School business manager Bianca Wyffels told the board that figure was later revised to $98,000 after discussions with the CFL.
CFL officials cited concerns about the school's work experience coordination, independent project studies and special education programs.
The school's letter to the state will describe its programs and seek guidance regarding what type of documentation the state requires for PEAKS to receive the pupil aid. PEAKS serves 51 students in grades nine through 12.
Board member Greg Perkins, in his motion to renegotiate the lease, said if the process was unsuccessful the board would regard June 30, 2001, which is the end of a two-year lease period, as the end of the agreement.
The existing lease between the Martins' management team and the school board contains ambiguous language regarding the length of the lease, with one portion referring to two years and another portion specifying a period of three years.
The lease of the 30-acre Pillager farm and buildings, criticized as excessive by school board president and lead teacher Mark Wolhart, was one of several issues raised by a St. Paul lawmaker last week. Rep. Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, claimed there was inadequate supervision of taxpayer money and weak financial controls for Minnesota's charter schools.
Wolhart said after the meeting that the controversy was a case of "an infant school board getting its feet wet."
While the school is in its third year, the current school board wasn't established until August of 2000.
Wolhart said he was hopeful the lease could be renegotiated and that Bruce Martin had offered "some relief" regarding the lease.
Bruce Martin said after Tuesday night's meeting that he had been willing to renegotiate months ago but wanted to iron out details with a committee rather than the full board.
"We need to get the board standing on its feet," he said. "They need to get more involved."
The other pressing decision before the board was whether the Martins would continue as the school's management team. That agreement ends this summer.
During the meeting at the PEAKS school Bruce Martin pointed out several expenses the board would incur if it severed its relationship with his management team. He said it's likely the state will come down hard with restrictions on such management team-school board relationships. Martin said the goal has always been for the school board to one day be independent.
Responding to a question from Steve Dess, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, Martin said it would be "no problem" to transfer the management team's records to the school board should it decide to run the school independently.
"We won't drop you," he said. "We still can be that safety net."
During a break in the four-hour session, Dess said the state needs to make its documentation rules clear, particularly for non-traditional schools such as PEAKS that offer project-based and experience learning.
"They're (the students) entitled to an educational design that fits their learning style," he said.
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