Frederick Classical Charter School advocates will continue fight to open
Advocates for the Frederick Classical Charter School are not ready to give up, though they are disappointed with the school board's rejection of their application on Monday night.
As they weigh their options for moving forward, they believe they could still open the school in Frederick County by 2012.
One option is appealing the school board's decision before the Maryland State Board of Education. The group will have to decide within 30 days if it wants to go down that path, said Tom Neumark, a Frederick County resident and parent who spearheaded efforts to put together the charter school application.
Alternatively, the group could reapply again next year to open the school in the fall of 2012, which would give advocates more time to find an appropriate building for the school, Neumark said.
Neumark hopes that school board member Donna Crook will keep her promise to bring the charter school application back up for discussion once the three new members of the school board are installed next month.
The terms of board members Bonnie B. Borsa, Daryl A. Boffman and Michael Schaden are finished and newly elected members April Fleming Miller, James C. Reeder Jr., and Brad Young will take their places. So it is possible that the new board may be willing to overturn the current board's decision, Neumark said.
"We are going to have to decide what we want to do," said Neumark, who said he was disappointed by the rejection but not surprised by it.
"We disagree with the board's decision," said Neumark noting that the rejection was not fair or in line with the school board's recent approval the Carroll Creek Montessori Charter School.
"To be consistent they should have approved us as well," Neumark said. "I think they were looking for reasons to deny our school."
The school board in September approved the Carroll Creek Montessori Charter School, on the conditions that the school board finds $800,000 to open the school and that the school founders find an appropriate building. If the school meets all conditions, it will open in 2012 as the second Montessori charter school in Frederick County. The Monocacy Valley Montessori Public Charter School, which opened in 2002, is the only charter school in Frederick County.
The Classical charter school called for educating 360 students from kindergarten through eighth grades, using a "modern approach to classical education." It aims to teach Latin to explain the origins of the English language, teach history chronologically and apply a more traditional approach to math than the school system.
School board members, who discussed the charter school application at an emotional meeting on Monday before a packed room, expressed a number of concerns with the application, related mostly to the proposed building, curriculum and the school system's financial health in the coming year.
The school board voted 5-0 to reject the school application because of these issues. School board members Jean Smith and Kathryn Groth were absent.
The biggest issue for the school board and for Superintendent Linda D. Burgee, who recommended denial of the school last week, was the proposed school's building.
Located at Research Drive in the Ballenger Creek area, the building is a part of an industrial zoning district and does not have permission to house a school, Borsa said.
Charter school advocates missed that detail as they put together their application, Borsa said, and that was just one example of the need for oversight over charter schools from the school system.
Another concern was that the curriculum proposed for the new school was too similar to what is already being taught in the school system, which offers Latin in middle schools and is also moving away from the TERC approach to math, Borsa said.
School board member Angie Fish said her biggest worry was approving a charter school application which could cost the school system up to $2.5 million, in times of a financial crisis. Fish said she was worried about opening a new charter school when the school system does not have money to meet its contractual obligations toward its teacher and staff unions.
Boffman was worried that if the system had to find money for the school, it would have to cut existing programs and services, which currently support struggling students across the system.
"Unfortunately right now we cannot afford to take money from these programs that are being successful," he said. "It just doesn't appear to be the right thing for our system right now."
Donna Crook was the only school board member who supported approval of the charter school and said she supported the school's approach to history, as well as its research-based reading program.
However, Crook decided to vote against the school now, which will give her a chance to bring the issue back for discussion in the future.
"I think that your application is the strongest we have seen yet," she told advocates and parents on Monday.