The battle for control of the Cityview school building is escalating with each round of court filings by lawyers, while the district is finding recruiting for the new school to be an uphill battle so far.

The district is asking a court to oust Minnesota School of Science from the district-owned school after the charter school sued to prevent that. The dispute originated as an argument over whether the charter has paid the rent it owes.

Now the district is asking Hennepin County District Judge Regina Chu to require that the charter post a $1 million bond if she grants its requested restraining order to block the district from taking back the North Side school. That’s to cover the rent the district claims to be owed for last school year, and the possibility that the school could stay rent-free for another year under a restraining order.  A July 30 hearing is scheduled.

Meanwhile, the district drew only two parents and one student Thursday at an enrollment recruitment open house at the school. They learned about the new type of school the district plans to open on Aug. 26 in the building and met teachers, most of whom the district has poached from the charter.  The district so far has hired eight of the 31 teachers MSS said it employed last school year.

The district is hoping to persuade families who had children at MSS to enroll in the yet-to-be-named school it plans at Cityview. The more teachers it lures, the better its chances.  For teachers, one lure is the higher salaries the district pays, and that will be augmented even further by the $6,000 extra pay that the new school’s teachers will get for a longer school day and year. They’ll also get extra planning time.

Parent Karen Bowman asked questions aimed at making sure her son will get the academic support he needs. She said she left convinced that she wants to enroll him, and said she’ll be spending lots of time at the school with him.
The rent dispute revolves around whether the charter was obligated to make full rental payment despite not getting state lease aid for that purpose.  The state refused the aid, citing a law that prohibits paying such aid when a charter authorizer, in this case the district, is also the landlord. Each side is interpreting the charter’s rental agreement differently.  The district argued that the rent was due regardless of the aid, and that the school could have paid rent out of its general state aid as contract alternative schools do.

The charter is suing to block district attempts to force it out of the school, to force the district to let it find a new charter authorizer, and to block raids on its teaching staff.  It’s alleging tortious interference, with one affidavit by charter Principal Mustafa Icel alleging that a key district official showed up in late May at a happy hour with several of the charter’s teachers to praise them but badmouth the school’s leadership.  That allegedly was Sara Paul, then the district’s director of its Office of New Schools , and now an associate superintendent.  Her job includes managing the district’s relations with the charters it authorizes.

But Paul said that the meeting was prompted by a tip from district custodians at the building that the charter was talking of a move to St. Paul and that some teachers were concerned about how that would affect students. She met with a dozen teachers after work, and said in an affidavit that some wanted to stay with their students. She said she commended their concern and said she would explore opening a new district progrm at the school to keep teachers and students together. Two days day, the district moved ahead with tha tprogram.

The district claims it didn’t interfere with teacher contracts because the charter’s teachers are at-will employees and can get out of their contracts if they pay a $2,500 penalty.  Paul said Friday that five of the eight former MSS teachers hired by the district had signed contracts for next year with the charter. 

The district claims immunity from any liability, under the charter school law, but the school claims that it is suing the district as landlord, not authorizer, said charter board member Gene Scapanski.

Meanwhile, another parent, Kerri Taylor, said: “I’m really hopeful that MSS just moves out.  I don’t think they’re handling it right.”  The Robbinsdale parent of second grader Genave said that her daughter thrived at the charter school.  But all of the teachers Genave had in her two years at the charter and every teacher  she and her mother were looking forward to is switching to the new district school.“It makes a much easier transition,” Taylor said.