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Charter School Gets Another Go-Ahead To Move Into Deep Ellum

Charter School Deep Ellum
The future location of a charter school in Deep Ellum, the 2600 block of Elm Street. (Credit: Jay Gormley)

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The City Council on Wednesday gave a charter school its blessing to use the city's name to issue bonds and nixed a rule prohibiting it from operating within 300 feet of a business that sells alcohol in Deep Ellum.

Uplift Education will now save upwards of $300,000 when issuing bonds to fund its efforts, as the city voted to create a corporation on its behalf. The school is planned to go into an empty building in the 2600 block of Elm Street.

Dallas won't be on the hook for any money and the proposed charter school is public, not private. The bond issue, however, sparked a lively discussion among both public speakers and councilmembers Wednesday.

"Because of Peak, I take rigorous courses that are preparing me for success in college," said Demtria Hasgrove, who attends Peak Academy, an Uplift school in East Dallas that ranked as the 12th best in the nation by the Washington Post.

While most speakers Wednesday sang Uplift's praises –– in addition to Peak, North Hills Preparatory in Irving was the Post's 11th best in the U.S. –– some thought its work undercuts that of Dallas ISD.

"If you really want to help, why don't you go over to the Dallas Independent School District and sit down and talk with them and see how you can help this public school system," asked resident Roscoe Smith.

Several councilmembers echoed that sentiment. Councilwoman Vonciel Jones Hill said several retired teachers in her district thought the charter schools hurt.

"I agree that this particular case is an adverse incursion on DISD," she said.

Fellow Councilwoman Ann Margolin disagreed, saying, "I do not believe this is a statement about DISD," she said.

"This is simply a funding mechanism that is available to charter schools."

In the end, the Council voted to create the bond-funding corporation. Uplift CEO Yasmin Bhatia said it was a relief.

"We're very appreciative of the councilmembers and mayor who are supporting our teachers and allowing us to capture these savings," he said.

Later in the meeting, the council voted to do away with city code preventing a school from operating within 300 feet of a bar in Deep Ellum.

When Uplift Education announced plans to move a school school into the space late last month, business owners expressed great concern that it would kill the entertainment district's momentum.

At least nine alcohol-serving businesses are within 300 feet of the building where Uplift hopes to place its charter school. The variance only applies to Deep Ellum, not any other part of the city.

Bhatia, meanwhile, said everything is on schedule.

"We plan on closing on our Deep Ellum school on April 1," he said.

Uplift hasn't cleared all the hurdles, though. The city must create a board to sell these bonds and the City Council will have to approve the final sales.

The goal is to have the school open by August 2012. Initial plans have it housing 960 students in grades 6 through 12.

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