A lawyer representing Minneapolis schools conceded Tuesday that the district may not have enough time remaining to open the district school it hopes will replace a charter school in the Cityview building that it is trying to regain from that charter.
"We're just not certain," district lawyer Cindy Lavorato told Hennepin County District Judge Regina Chu in a court hearing that likely will determine whether the district regains the North Side school from the charter that has occupied it for two years. Chu said she'll rule Wednesday.
The admission comes amidst increasing signs that a replacement district school at Cityview may not be ready to open on Aug. 26 when school starts for the year.
As of last week, the district had hired eight teachers who had taught at the charter school (Minnesota School of Science) but had enrolled only four students.
Moreover, one veteran who has worked with both charter and district schools to open new schools expressed skepticism that the district has enough lead time to do a quality job of opening a replacement school at Cityview.
"In my experience over 40 years, it takes six to nine months to do a good job of setting up a new school, whether district or charter," said Joe Nathan, director of the St. Paul-based Center for School Change. The district decided to open the school two months ago, according to a district affidavit.
The dispute between the charter occupying Cityview and the district followed a decision by the state that the law bars it from paying lease aid to a charter when the same party is both the school's state-required authorizer and its landlord.
The charter argued that relieved it of its obligation to pay the district the $518,000 in unpaid rent for last year because the lease is conditioned on state lease aid. But the district argued that a renegotiation of the lease last year removed that presumption.
"I'm really having a problem understanding why you can sit there rent-free," Chu told lawyer Michael Flom, representing the school.
The charter sued seeking a court order to block the district from evicting the school, hiring its teachers, and misrepresenting the school. The district countered by seeking removal of the charter from the building for non-payment.
The upshot is a struggle for control of a building that both the district and the charter want for the upcoming year. Lavorato said that even if it can't open a new district K-5 school at Cityview, it can rent the space for preschool and other programs.
"It really does require immediate resolution," Lavorato told Chu. She said district taxpayers shouldn't have to shoulder another year of rent-free occupancy by the charter. She said that when the district filed its response to the lawsuit in mid-July, teachers were on board for the new district school developing curriculum. But two weeks later, the difficulty of putting together a school on short notice is registering with the district.
But Flom argued that ruling for the school's eviction would likely representing its death knell, without other quarters lined up. After consulting with the charter's board, he said that it couldn't afford to post last school year's disputed rent and make payments for the current year as a bond if the matter went to trial.

(Photo: Charter schol parents protest Minneapolis district plans to open a district school in Cityview school.)