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Charter school will miss August opening

Howard and Lillian Lee Scholars Charter School will not be ready to open for the 2012-13 school year.

But the school’s board of directors is already in the process of reapplying for a new charter.

The school, which partners with for-profit management company National Heritage Academies, was opposed by school officials and the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

School supporters hope it will serve minorities and reduce the achievement gap.

The North Carolina State Board of Education approved the school’s charter earlier this year, under the condition that it would be ready to open for the 2012-13 school year.

A major setback the school faced was locating a temporary space to house the school in.

Both applications require the school building to take up at least 45,000 square feet. The school must also have a soccer field, a 165-space parking lot and a location inside a residential area.

Because the school won’t reach its July 1 deadline, it must go through the entire application process again for the 2013-14 school year.

“We thought that the charters would be issued a little bit earlier than they were,” said Annie Doris Jackson, a member of the school’s board of directors.

Jackson said the board of directors had not anticipated how long it would take to find temporary property to house the school on, while waiting for their permanent location to be ready.

Joel Medley, director of the state office of charter schools, said if the charter school is approved by an advisory council, it will next go to an interview process.

Medley said the advisory council will most likely reconvene on June 20 to discuss which of the 54 charter applicants will return for an interview.

Medley said the council’s prior approval of the charter school did not necessarily mean they would approve it again.

The school expects to enroll about 480 students in its first year. About 20 families so far have shown interest in attending the charter school, Jackson said.

She said they had kept in touch with the families in case the school was not ready to open for the upcoming school year so they could make alternative plans.

Dottie Heath, a consultant at the state office of charter schools, said it is fairly typical for a charter school to have trouble getting off the ground in its initial year.

“It is a difficult situation to find property, to find land, to find place,” she said.

But school officials hope to have a new site ready once the new application is approved.

Joe DiBenedetto, spokesman for National Heritage Academies, said the company has reached an agreement to purchase seven acres of land on the eastern tract of the Claremont South development on Homestead Road in Carrboro for the school.

DiBenedetto said work on the Claremont site will begin once the town of Carrboro approves the modified development plan and a new charter is received from the state Board of Education.

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