State board to hear charter school’s appeal Tuesday
By Matthew Stewart | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The nearly seven-month push to establish the state’s first suburban charter school is finally nearing its end.
Innovation Education Partnership Inc. aspires to open the HOPE (Hands-On, Progressive Education) Academy in fall 2012.
If approved, officials anticipate initially serving 180 students in nine classes. They plan to serve 320 K-8 students by 2016-17.
Earlier this year, community members started talking about the possibility of establishing a charter school. Within several months, they had formed IEP and were actively working to establish HOPE Academy.
In late May, IEP expressed interest in establishing the charter school in Alcoa. The organization, however, never presented an application to the Alcoa Board of Education.
IEP later shifted its focus and started reviewing county sites. Shortly thereafter, Blount County emerged as the frontrunner.
On June 2, Tab Burkhalter Jr., a founding member and District 1-B county commissioner, informed the Blount County Board of Education of IEP’s intent to submit a charter school application to the elected body.
The organization also submitted waiver requests for 21 state laws and state Board of Education rules and regulations. Founding members even asked for a waiver that would open HOPE Academy to all students within the county’s geographical boundaries, including Maryville and Alcoa.
On June 20, Burkhalter gave a presentation to the Blount County Board of Education.
During the meeting, school board members expressed some concerns with the enrollment waiver. Mike Treadway questioned why the school system wouldn’t give first preference to its own students; and Chris Cantrell later asked if the organization could solely serve Blount County’s students.
In late July, IEP held two events to inform the public about charter schools and HOPE Academy.
At that time, HOPE Academy’s student interest list was more than 160 students. As of Sept. 22, the list had grown to 298 children.
At least 160 students are zoned for Blount County Schools, according to IEP.
On Aug. 2, the Blount County Board of Education and IEP discussed the charter school application in a nearly five-hour meeting.
During the work session, Blount County school officials discussed instruction and programming, school finance and special education services.
The greatest concerns were related to finance. Troy Logan, the system’s fiscal administrator, questioned how the district could absorb the cost of shifting funds to the HOPE Academy.
“The system is going to lose revenue, and the board will have to make cuts based on all things being equal,” Logan said. “However, the children won’t come from one school or classroom.”
“We could lose close to $1 million,” said board member Brad Long in the meeting. “We’d be affecting 11,000 students and benefiting 180 students. Money is my issue. I’m not willing to affect 11,000 students for 180 students.”
The school district will only be in a “short-term pinch,” Burkhalter said. “I believe (HOPE Academy) will be a beacon for the county. I think it will show a renewed interest in the county. I think it will also show the area that education is a renewed focus in Blount County. We wouldn’t have spent money on a research and development park if we didn’t think it was the future.”
Board members also questioned whether the school would be in the best interests of students. They voiced concerns with the school’s special education and transportation proposals.
On Aug. 4, the Blount County Board of Education voted 6-0 against HOPE Academy’s application. The late John Davis was absent.
School board members awarded 35½ out of 100 points to the group’s application, according to a nine-page document that details the decision. They denied the application based on “the discovery of incomplete information, inaccurate information, conflicts with the old law versus the new law, issues and concerns related to the educational plan, governance and policies, as well as operations and finance.”
Application denied again
IEP later revised its application and submitted the amended application on Aug. 29.
The organization also revised its enrollment waiver in this application. Founding members currently seek to waive Blount County’s transfer policy so they can open enrollment to out-of district students who meet the charter school’s guidelines and eligibility requirements.
On Sept. 8, school board members voted 5-0 against the amended application. Davis and Chris Cantrell were absent.
School board members awarded 41 out of 100 points to the group’s amended application, according to a 14-page document that details the decision.
IEP appealed this decision to the state Board of Education.
On Oct. 27, the organization passed its first appellate hurdle. Tennessee State Treasurer David H. Lillard Jr. ruled that establishing HOPE Academy would not have a substantial negative fiscal impact on Blount County Schools.
The state Board of Education will review HOPE Academy’s amended application at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday in the Central Office’s John P. Davis Jr. Boardroom.
If the state board finds the local board’s decision was contrary to the best interests of the pupils, school district or community, the state board will remand the decision to the school board with written instructions for approval of the charter. The state board’s decision is final and not subject to appeal.