Chas. County School Board rejects career-focused charter application

The Charleston County School Board rejected a charter school application Monday.

The Charleston County School Board rejected a charter application Monday for a high school that would offer internship and apprenticeship opportunities to a small group of students.

The AIM (Apprenticeship, Internships, Micro-enterprise) Charter School sought district support to open in the fall of 2017 with a capacity of 100 students. Many core academic classes would take place via the state-run VirtualSC online learning program, with teachers on campus “facilitating the online learning experiences,” according to the group’s presentation.

At AIM, freshmen and sophomores would work in unpaid internships with area companies one day of the week. The upper grades would participate in paid apprenticeships and take dual-credit classes for career certification.

“I felt like there were things I learned from the business world that could be brought into the classroom,” said Mark Roberts, the teacher and former businessman seeking to start the school.

The charter hearing grew contentious as school board members fired off financial and academic questions for Roberts and his school’s charter board. Valerie Harrison, the district’s interim chief academic officer, said the district already provides most of the things AIM would offer.

“We have dual credit, we have apprenticeships, we have internships already,” Harrison said.

Mary Carmichael, executive director of the Public Charter School Alliance, said district staff had waited to tell the charter applicants about their objections until the day of the hearing.

“It’s clear that they don’t want any more charter schools,” Carmichael said. Charleston County is home to a dozen public charter schools already, including nine supported by the county school district and three supported by the statewide charter district. Two more are scheduled to open this fall.

In other business, the district learned Friday that the $18 million budget shortfall from last school year could have serious long-term effects. Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the district’s credit rating from Aa1 to Aa2 with a negative outlook, meaning taxpayers may have to spend more for tax bonds in the future. Interim Chief Financial Officer Glenn Stiegman recommended that the board set aside $5 million in next school year’s budget to help restore the fund balance, a cushion fund that has dwindled and played a role in the rating downgrade.

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