The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday May 28th

Chapel Hill charter school proposal to be reviewed today

The application for a new charter school in Chapel Hill — a source of worry for some school officials and community members — could move forward in the approval process today.

The new Public Charter School Advisory Council will interview applicants for the Howard and Lillian Lee Scholars Charter School today to decide whether to recommend it for consideration by the N.C. State Board of Education.

The application is being considered by the council through the “fast track” program for schools that want to open this fall.

Angela Lee helped submit the application for the elementary charter school, named for her parents, in November. In the application, the goals of the school include alleviating overcrowding in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and closing the achievement gap.

But Superintendent Tom Forcella sent a letter to the state Office of Charter Schools in December saying that the school system is already tackling these problems.

In his letter, Forcella included three years of test scores that show a decrease in the achievement gap and noted the approval of a new elementary school that will address overcrowding.

While some have spoken out against the school, advocates say it would help underserved students.

Eddie Goodall, the executive director of the N.C. Public Charter Schools Association, said charter schools can better address the needs of at-risk students than other public schools.

“It’s the drive to excel that comes from, I think, the educators and the parents who have made a choice to invest in the charter school,” he said. “It draws them into a common effort, and it translates into children excelling.”

Charter schools, which sometimes don’t provide school lunches or transportation, encourage more volunteerism from parents, Goodall said.

“The parents almost have to play a more integral role,” he said.

But the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP and district officials are worried about the public funds that would be redirected to the charter school.

The charter school would receive about $4.6 million to $7 million of the district’s budget, based on enrollment projections of 480 to 723 students multiplied by per-pupil spending from state and local budgets, said Todd LoFrese, assistant superintendent for support services.

He said the reduction in students would result in about 20 to 40 fewer classroom teachers, which would only save the system about $1.2 million to $2 million.

Although other district schools would have fewer students because of the charter school, costs like utilities and some teaching positions in existing schools are fixed, LoFrese said.

“At the end of the day, what we could reduce in our expenses would not match that revenue loss,” he said.

The charter school might also negatively impact the district’s diversity by targeting minorities and drawing them away from other schools in the system, said Stephanie Knott, spokeswoman for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

While the district has expressed concern with the school, the local NAACP chapter has publicly opposed the school.

“If you’re going to target low-income children and children of color, you are going to create a segregated school,” said Robert Campbell, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP.

He said the chapter has discussed the charter school at public forums organized by its education committee.

“Right now we are just trying to focus on making sure the people in our school district are aware of what’s going on,” he said.

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