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University Lab School may be stuck without a home

July 16, 2014

As an operational agreement between the school district and The University Laboratory School falters, plans for a charter school in the Eschweiler buildings on Innovation Campus could be compromised.

Superintendent Phil Ertl said the hold-up is due to legal concerns from the Department of Public Instruction about whether students enrolled in the district could attend the charter school under a "66.30" agreement that would allow those students to be counted as school district members for funding purposes. The district would then provide one full time teacher for every 26 students who went to the charter school.

Ertl said he is still hopeful the district can resolve DPI's concerns and come to an agreement, but TULS Director Danny Goldberg is not so sure.

"We're proceeding as if there is no agreement," Goldberg said. "I don't have any reason to believe the operational agreement will go forward."

While Goldberg said the school is prepared to move ahead in the Eschweiler buildings without an agreement, operating independently from the district, its fate will depend also on the Mandel Group, the developer on the project that has plans for apartments next door.

Under a development agreement with Mandel approved by the Common Council Tuesday, the city's contribution to the project is conditioned upon the school coming to an agreement with the district. Without it, Mandel would lose $2.5 million in tax-incremental financing from the city for underground parking.

If the operational agreement does not work out, Mandel could be in the situation of choosing between the TIF money and the school. Phil Aiello, senior development manager at Mandel, said the company has not yet evaluated alternatives if the operational agreement doesn't come through, but he said he expects it will want to retain the TIF money.

"At this point, we're open to possibilities, but the likelihood is that if they don't come to an agreement with the district, I anticipate we would move forward with the TIF," Aiello said.

Aiello said this wouldn't exclude the possibility of continuing to work with the school, but did not know how exactly that would work. If the school did not move forward in the Eschweiler buildings, Aiello said Mandel could use the administration building for amenities for its residents and office space for nonprofits. These uses would allow Mandel to receive the TIF funds.

"The big picture is we're waiting on the school district," Aiello said. "Despite that item being put on hold, we have not given up on an operating agreement and depending on that, what the development looks like remains to be assessed."

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