More hurdles ahead for Deep Ellum charter school

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by BRAD WATSON

WFAA

Posted on February 20, 2012 at 7:18 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 20 at 8:38 PM

Proposed charter school

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DALLAS — Bars and schools don't mix, and there's a law in Dallas that keeps them 300 feet apart.

But on Wednesday, the City Council will decide whether to exempt new bars in Deep Ellum from that law in order to clear the way for a new charter school to open on the 2600 block of Elm Street.

It's one of two critical votes the Council will take regarding one of the most successful charter school operators in North Texas, Uplift Education.

However, if the City Council lifts the rule for Deep Ellum on Wednesday, it will relieve a lot of businesses there, according to Barry Annino of the Deep Ellum Foundation.

"Well obviously it saves us, because otherwise we would have been a slow death there with no more margarita patios or anything within 300 feet," Annino said. "In Deep Ellum, 300 feet is a pretty big space."

Uplift's school serving grades 6 through 12 is set to open in August with 250 students, rising to 960 in 2015.

It's part of an expansion by Uplift at several schools in North Texas that the charter operator will finance with $86 million in tax-exempt bonds.

Some of the Dallas schools — like a new building at Peak Preparatory — could be financed by $15 million in special federal stimulus bonds, but  the Dallas City Council must approve.

If it does, Uplift would save $300,000 a year in interest and give teachers a raise, according to Teno Sigmon, Director of Uplift's Peak Preparatory.

"Moreover, if we wish to maintain highly-qualified, motivated professionals in education, we must do all that we can to compensate them," Sigmon added.

But there's opposition to the plan.

Alliance/AFT, the largest teachers' group in the Dallas school district, says charter schools recruit students who would otherwise attend DISD schools. They say the city should strengthen them, not Uplift.

"We have all seen what happens when government abdicates its responsibilities to regulate and govern corporations," said Alliance/AFT spokesman Tony Chenevert.

Uplift also still has an parking issue with the city.

Last week, a city board turned down its parking plan for the school in Deep Ellum, saying the facility didn't have enough spaces. But Uplift is working on a new plan, and feels it will get approval, and the school will open on time.

E-mail bwatson@wfaa.com

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