Charter school won't open
A new charter school for middle school students will be unable to open for a second consecutive year because it doesn't have a place to hold classes.
Horizon Middle Academy made the agonizing decision last year to delay opening for a number of reasons that included not having a building.
This year, the school had everything it needed to open, including design plans and a site for the new building, but it couldn't get the money it needed to start construction.
"We're still hoping, trying to make it happen," said Tina Beck, who leads the school's planning committee. "It's getting a little old, but we're trying to persevere."
Horizon Middle was the first Lowcountry school to be approved by the South Carolina Public Charter School District in December 2007. The school plans to serve 350 sixth- through eighth-grade Charleston County students, offering individualized instruction and using a holistic approach to teach students.
Charter schools approved by the state district don't need the local school board's approval, but they don't receive as much money as charter schools approved by local boards. The only funding they receive comes from state and federal sources; they receive no local money.
The lack of adequate funding and the state's fluctuating funding estimates has made it difficult for Horizon leaders to secure the money needed for a building, Beck said. They found land on Johns Island, have design plans for a $5.5 million, 26,000-square-foot "green" building, and can get a loan to fund 80 percent of the project. But they need to come up with the remaining 20 percent, or roughly $1 million, and it's a difficult environment to find investors, she said.
"We've been dealing with people all over the country who do this in multiple states, and South Carolina is not a good investment because it's not secure," she said.
When charter school leaders realized in March that they couldn't build the school by August, they asked Charleston school district Chief Financial Officer Mike Bobby permission to use space in a district building. The charter school was willing to share space with another school and to pay rent, but the district kept delaying a decision, Beck said. By June, Beck realized the school would have to wait another year to open.
"They don't want us to exist," she said.
The school board decided in January to close five schools, and it approved earlier this month future plans for those and other unused buildings.
School Superintendent Nancy McGinley said neither she nor board Chairwoman Toya Green received a formal request from Horizon Middle on using space in a district building. She suggested that Beck give her a written request, and she'd bring it to the board.
The only start-up charter school using district space is the Charleston Charter School for Math & Science, and its organizers fought a long, hard battle to make that happen.
Beck said she's considering seeking approval from the county board so the charter school would receive more money, but she knows that would be difficult. She plans to try for at least one more year to open the school.
"I don't know that I can keep on," she said. "I do want to give it another year. ... For a lot of people, the traditional, familiar way of educating children is not what they want. We have a right to have innovation, alternatives and choices. If not for any other reason, it's a good reason to continue."