A new elementary charter school could open its doors in Chapel Hill this August if the N.C. State Board of Education approves its application today.
The application for the Howard and Lillian Lee Scholars Charter School is one of nine being considered by the board through a one-time, “fast track” process following the lift of the statewide cap on charter schools last June.
“We’re just anxious to find out what the state board will decide,” said Angela Lee, the lead applicant for the school, which is named for her parents.
The state board of education met on Wednesday and reviewed the nine charter school applications recommended out of a pool of 27 by the Public Charter School Advisory Council.
Board member Patricia Willoughby said the group had no discussion or questions about the Lee Charter School.
Both the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education and the local branch of the NAACP sent letters to the state board of education opposing the school.
John Betterton, chairman of the advisory council and a charter school administrator, said despite those statements, the council thought the Lee Scholars School’s intent to target minority students and close the achievement gap was outstanding.
“We always consider any input that comes along, but our decision was based on the merits of the application,” he said. “It’s not a popularity contest.”
An online petition against the charter school has collected nearly 800 signatures.
If the school is approved, it will be managed by a for-profit company, National Heritage Academies, which some residents argue might compromise its educational mission.
National Heritage Academies, headquartered in Michigan, already provides infrastructure and managerial support for five charter schools in North Carolina.
Performance of students at the five schools has been mixed.
According to N.C. Report Cards for the 2010 to 2011 school year, two had higher percentages of students performing at or above grade level on End-of-Grade tests compared to state averages.
But the other three N.C. schools managed by the company — which qualify for need-based federal grants based on their proportion of low-income students — have below average percentages of students performing at or above grade level on the tests.
The for-profit companies supply support to a charter school, such as administration and curriculum, in exchange for part of its public funding, said Mark Cramer, superintendent and CEO of Roger Bacon Academy, which manages two N.C. charter schools.
Betterton said now that the cap is lifted, the state is becoming a more attractive market for these companies.
“I’m not a real fan of for-profit organizations coming in and managing,” he said. “But if they can get the job done and be efficient with taxpayers’ money and improve student learning, then so be it.”
School district officials and parents are also concerned the charter school may siphon funds away from the system’s budget.
Stephanie Knott, spokeswoman for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said the board hasn’t made plans for budget adjustments if the charter school is approved.
“We have made efforts to reach out to representatives of the charter school, but they have not been returned,” she said.
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