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The Daily Tar Heel

Proposed Chapel Hill charter school approved by state board

A new charter school has approval to open in Chapel Hill this August, despite the wishes of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district and NAACP.

The State Board of Education approved the Howard and Lillian Lee Scholars Charter School application Thursday, making the school one of nine fast-track applicants that can open in the state next school year.

Application materials state that the school, which will partner with for-profit management company National Heritage Academies, will serve minorities and tackle the achievement gap.

Next steps

William Harrison, chairman of the State Board of Education, said approved applicants will meet with advisers later in March to discuss procedures, timelines and technicalities.

The schools must then meet conditions — like providing a certificate of occupancy for the building where they will locate — by July 1 to receive funds to open their doors in August.

Harrison said though three of the schools passed easily, the Lee Charter School was one of six that the board questioned.

He said board members weren’t sure Chapel Hill needed another elementary school, because it already has plans to open Elementary 11 in Northside.

But he said because need wasn’t part of the criteria used to evaluate proposals, it passed.

“That really wasn’t an issue that was addressed in the local statutes,” he said.

He said though the board has recommended that the N.C. Public Charter School Advisory Council readdress its evaluation criteria for future applicants, currently the board examines an applicant’s financial and educational plans, among other criteria.

Controversial decision

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education Superintendent Tom Forcella and the local branch of the NAACP have openly opposed the school, saying it will decrease diversity and that district progress in closing the achievement gap makes it unnecessary.

But Chapel Hill-Carrboro board Chairwoman Mia Day Burroughs said in a release that the board accepts the passage.

“In the end, our mission is to ensure that each of our students gets the best possible education. We will continue to focus all our efforts and resources on achieving that,” she said.

John Betterton, a charter school administrator and chairman of the council that recommended nine charters to the state board from a pool of 27 applicants, said he believes the school will serve minority needs.

“If this school does not serve the children and appeal to the parents and clientele, it’s a moot issue,” he said. “If the parents and children don’t choose it, then it doesn’t exist.”

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