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Refund the Impact Fee to Austin Discovery School

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Austin Discovery School is an open-enrollment public charter school. I am writing to ask the City of Austin to refund the $86,400 Impact Fee. Our school was assessed for the water meter associated with the remodeling of our school campus. I have researched the exemption that traditional public schools receive and the inter-local agreement the City of Austin has with area school districts, and I believe our charter public school should receive the same parity in treatment as a traditional public school.

My reasons follow:

Charter schools are virtually identical to traditional public schools in governance, accountability and regulation and that the only real difference between a charter public school and a traditional public school is the way they teach children.

The biggest public misconception is that charter schools were created as an end-around in the Texas legislature, creating a de facto "voucher" system. It is often misquoted in Op-eds and letters to the editor that charter schools are "for-profit" or "privately run". It is also misquoted that charter schools can cherry pick students, exclude students they don't want, and expel students at will.

In fact, open enrollment charters can only be held by one of four types of entities: a non-profit corporation, a traditional public school, a university, or a governmental entity.

For-profit companies or individuals cannot legally be a charter holder. Charter schools are required to comply with the Texas Open Meetings Act, the Texas Public Information Act, and are subject to - just like traditional school districts - state and federal laws and rules governing public schools. All charter school board meetings must have posted agendas, be open to the public, and keep minutes. Open enrollment charter schools cannot select students. In an open enrollment charter school, if there are more applications than spaces, there has to be a random lottery.

The next misconception is that charter schools can develop real property and take advantage of public school development exemptions (such as setbacks, zoning, and impervious cover requirements), and then if the charter is revoked, sell that property to a "for profit" company or a holding company who then benefits from the entitlements the charter received on the property. This is not true. Chapter 12 of the Education Code provides that charter property is "public property of the State held in trust by the charter holder for the benefit of the students."

Charters are also subject to the same academic and financial accountability standards as ISDs. Charter schools must pass financial accountability standards set by The Texas Education Agency (the FIRST rating), as well as academic accountability through standardized testing (The STAAR test). Failure to meet financial or academic accountability for 3 years in a row will result in the revocation of the charter. Traditional ISDs are not subject to this type of "high stakes" accountability.

Charter schools receive no state facilities money from the state and on average, receive about $1,000 less per student per year than traditional ISDs. So we have to use general education dollars to pay for our facilities. In our case, we receive about a half a million dollars less per year than if we were a traditional public school.

The State of Texas legislation that exempts traditional public school districts from impact fees cites the term "independent school districts" and that technicality is cited by the water utility lawyers as the reason we are not automatically entitled to the exemption. But in fact, charter schools are public schools. Our County-District Number (a number assigned to all public schools in the state of Texas) is 227821. I've attached the school district locator map with The Austin Discovery School District shown. We expect the 85th Texas Legislature to clarify this exemption from impact fees to specifically include public charter schools and put us in parity with traditional ISDs for the automatic exemption, but that doesn't help us right now.

This technicality is not a good reason to collect taxpayer dollars for impact fees from a public charter school when the Texas Legislature clearly intended to shield public schools from paying. I've attached the legislation exempting public school districts from impact fees.

It is obvious when you weigh these facts that we should be considered in exact parity as any other traditional public school district, and so I respectfully request a refund of the $86,400 impact fee we paid, because our public school should be considered exempt.



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