Almost everyone agrees that organizers of the proposed Village Charter School have their hearts in the right place, but not everyone thinks the group is ready to deliver on its promises.
The Village Charter School hopes to serve at-risk middle school students who it contends have been “overlooked and discarded” by public schools. The school would like to open in fall 2014 with 130 students and grow to 240 students in five years.
Charleston County School District staff recommended the board deny the application because its proposed budget didn’t have enough money to adequately serve such a high-need population.
The county school board backed up the district administration and agreed 5-3 last week not to approve the school’s request to open. Board members Chris Collins, Michael Miller and Elizabeth Moffly voted against the majority, and board Vice Chairman Craig Ascue was not present.
“A ‘no’ now does not mean no forever,” said board member Todd Garrett. “But it wasn’t presented as a program completely thought out for implementation.”
The charter school’s supporters say they aren’t concerned with the board’s vote because they consider their application approved. State law requires school boards to rule on charter school applications within 45 days of receiving them; otherwise, the applications are considered automatically approved.
Helen Frazier, one of the charter school’s organizers, said the district missed that 45-day deadline because it received notice Nov. 27. The school’s backers plan to continue moving forward with plans to open.
“(The board vote) was a moot point,” she said.
John Emerson, the district’s attorney, disagrees with Frazier on the 45-day timeline. He said the board ruled on the application within the 45 days. The district received the application via certified mail Nov. 30, and the board voted on it Jan. 14, which is within 45 days, he said.
Even if someone were to argue the district received it earlier, he said deadlines that fall on the weekend are pushed to the next business day, according to the state Rules of Civil Procedure.
Frazier, a school counselor at C.E. Williams Middle, said the charter school will serve students within its proposed budget, and it plans to request a rent-free district building, such as what’s been provided to the Charleston Charter School for Math and Science.
“We can’t say we’re going to provide a building for one charter school and not do it for another,” she said.
Village Charter supporters said they were disappointed and surprised at the board’s vote. The charter school wants to serve a small number of students who aren’t prepared when they come to school and end up affecting the learning of the majority, Frazier said.
Carlette Geddis plans to enroll her child in Village Charter. She said she likes the idea of its small class sizes so students can get the help they need.
“Some classrooms are too big, and the kids who need extra help aren’t getting it,” she said.
Some school board members questioned why the board would turn down the school’s application when the state Charter School Advisory Board signed off on it.
Dennis Drew, chairman of that board, said its role is to make sure charter applications comply with the law, and it’s up to local boards or the statewide district to consider other issues, such as feasibility.
“We do to some degree, but that’s not our job,” he said.
Many school board members who voted against the application said they wanted to approve it, but the district made a strong case as to why Village Charter wasn’t ready financially to do what it promised.