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Denver District Ordered To Approve Charter Proposal

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The Denver school district must obey an order from the Colorado board of education and act quickly to approve a charter school proposed by a local teacher, a state judge ruled last week.

The ruling by District Judge John W. Coughlin in Denver was a victory for the state's charter law as well as for the proposed Thurgood Marshall Middle School, which is being spearheaded by Cordia Booth, a longtime teacher in the public schools.

Ms. Booth and other organizers have locked horns with district officials for more than a year over the charter school's application. The proposed alternative school would hire certified teachers and has received the backing of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. (See Education Week, 3/8/95.)

Ms. Booth appealed to the state school board after district officials twice rejected her application. The state board last year ordered the district to approve the application for the 1995-96 school year.

Ms. Booth sued the district last month after negotiations over the specifics of the charter arrangement reached a stalemate. The district has objected to the amount of per-pupil funding the charter school is seeking.

Judge Coughlin on March 27 issued a preliminary injunction ordering the district to work with Ms. Booth's group to complete a charter application by April 14 and present it to the school board for approval at its first meeting after that date.

District Claims Rejected

The judge rejected the district's arguments that a provision of the state's charter-school law giving the state board power to order the approval of applications violates the state constitution.

He also supported Ms. Booth's contention that the state board unambiguously ordered Denver to approve the Thurgood Marshall charter application.

"Although not expressly finding that the Denver school board staff is negotiating in bad faith, this court does find that the staff is not acting with the expediency necessary" to carry out the state board's order, Judge Coughlin said.

Ms. Booth said last week she was happy with the ruling but wondered whether the legal battle was over.

"I'm hoping they are just as tired of fighting this as we are," she said of district officials. "The more we delay, the more the likelihood that we can't sustain this effort over a long period of time."

Pat Mooney, a lawyer for the Denver school board, said district officials were reviewing the ruling. The district will probably try again to negotiate the precise terms of the charter, he said.

If, however, the Thurgood Marshall group presents a "wish list" application and demands that it be approved, then "it looks like we going to be back in court," he said.

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