The politics and controversy that often come with the charter school territory were distractions Lowcountry Leadership Charter School organizers took deliberate steps to avoid.
Factors outside of their control thrust the new charter school into heated community debate on Monday night when it appeared before the Charleston County School Board.
The charter school wanted to temporarily use the former Schroder Middle School building in District 23 (Hollywood) while construction on its permanent facility is finished, but some residents and parents in the community fought that request. They said the charter school would further segregate the community, endanger students by increasing traffic, and hurt existing public schools by taking away students and funds.
The school board sided with the charter school, and it voted 5-3 to give it permission to use the Schroder building for 60 days. It’s not clear when the charter school will have its first day of classes, but officials hoped that would be as soon as possible.
“I didn’t think we’d end up in this situation, and we had tried to avoid it,” said Mache Larkin, the school’s leader. “We hope the community will accept us, and we’ll try to work with them any way we can.”
The school couldn’t open in its permanent site because of construction delays triggered by rainy weather. That meant the school needed a short-term back-up site.
The board put additional conditions on the lease of the Schroder campus, such as staggering the charter school’s start time until 9 a.m., which is one hour later than C.C. Blaney Elementary. Blaney Elementary is on the same campus as the Schroder building, and some parents expressed concerns about the additional traffic the charter school would bring. The charter school will enroll 400 students in grades K-9, and it will not provide bus transportation.
The charter school will be expected to provide off-duty police officers to help with traffic flow during arrival and dismissal times.
The charter school also will have to meet the district’s insurance deductible. It will pay about $128,000 to rent the building, and any leftover money will be given to District 23 schools. The charter school will not be able to use the space after 60 days, and it will have to cover the cost of some needed building repairs. Any programs already using the Schroder building won’t be disrupted.
More than 200 people who had a stake in the charter school debate showed up at Monday night’s meeting. They stood along the back wall of the board meeting and spilled out of the downtown meeting room. At one point, the majority of those who were present stood in support of the charter school.
“This issue is a lot deeper than even we as board members realize and recognize,” said board member Michael Miller. “In the conversations I have had with people about the nature of the use of the Schroder building and the creation of this charter school … this is a bad marriage for so many reasons.”
Miller was joined by Vice Chairman Craig Ascue and Chris Collins in voting down the lease. They also are the board’s only black members.
Race was one of the issues discussed by those who were opposed to the charter school. Although the charter school already has been approved to open by the state Public Charter School District, some tried to block its use of the Schroder building in an effort to prevent it from moving forward.
“Just listening to what members of the charter school are asking brings me back to the 60s: separation of schools, separation of students,” said Mary Adelana, who spoke during the meeting. “I’m sure these are great teachers who will be at the charter school, but … I would like to suggest you bring your talent of teaching to the already existing schools.”
One of the charter school’s founders told the board 67 percent of charter school students were low-income and 25 percent were minority. Parent April Kemp told the board she planned to travel an extra 50 miles to be able to send her children to the school.
“I have tried our local schools, and have decided that this is the best option for my children,” she said.
In other business, the board agreed to: expand both the new Jennie Moore Elementary and Laing Middle by 300 students each at a cost of $7.9 million; solve a projected future cash-flow shortage in its building program by using four different strategies, all of which will enable construction to happen on the proposed timeline; and use $4.1 million in future sales tax revenue to expand Wando High’s cafeteria, update its communications technology, and build a new road between Warrior Way and Darryl Creek, as well as build a staff parking lot for Memminger Elementary.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.