Shell Point charter-school effort faces long climb

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Shell Point charter-school effort faces long climb


By KYLE PETERSON
kpeterson@beaufortgazette.com
843-706-8147
Published Friday, August 12, 2011   |  772 Words  |  

By the time the Beaufort County Board of Education voted to close Shell Point Elementary School after the coming school year, several parents had already vowed to replace it with a charter school.

They remain undeterred, even as they eye the mountain of paperwork and gauntlet of requirements before them.

"Is it a monumental task?" asked Lisa Kindwall, the charter committee's spokeswoman. "Yes. It's not something we take lightly."

But the committee, consisting of about 10 parents and residents, is ready to do its homework.

"We're above water," said committee chairwoman Cathy Emmert. "It's a lot to learn, a lot to take in and a lot to do. But it's not more than we can accomplish."

APPLICATION

The committee must first submit a charter application to a state review board. Organizers must propose curriculum, a school calendar, a teacher-evaluation process, and a five-year budget. They must project student enrollment and justify those figures.

Tom Graves, the state's charter school liaison, said applications usually contain several hundred pages.

"I think the reason it's so tough is you don't want everybody picking up a school that's not going to help kids be successful," he said. "You want to make sure it's going to be a good one."

Facility requirements must also be detailed.

State law gives charter organizations the first shot at buying shuttered schools, and the Shell Point committee has proposed buying or renting the elementary school after it is closed.

But it can't force a district to sell, and so far, the school board has not voted on what to do with the building.

Additionally, a charter school, which is intended to give parents a choice, must demonstrate how it is different from other public schools.

Wayne Brazell, superintendent of the S.C. Public Charter School District, said he thinks parents will find it difficult to get approval "if the only rationale they have for a charter school is they wanted to keep their local school open."

LOCAL APPROVAL

A new charter school must also be accepted either by its local school district or by the state charter district.

At this point, Shell Point parents say they're aiming for local approval.

The Beaufort County school board, though, might not be receptive.

"The board took a position some time ago that until the economic climate clears, if we're not compelled to, that we should not approve any new charters," said board Chairman Fred Washington Jr.

Shell Point parents contend the district is required to approve any charter that meets statutory requirements.

Indeed, Brazell said local officials can't simply toss an application in the trash and say they don't like charter schools. But there's little -- short of appeal to the Administrative Law Court -- that can force a district to accept a charter agreement, he said.

Washington argued that a new charter school would hurt the district's budget, because funding taken by the school would not be offset by a reduction in costs elsewhere.

"It's not like all the students come out of a class or a particular school, and therefore, you can eliminate a teacher," he said.

STATE APPROVAL

Conflict between proposed schools and local boards is, in part, why the state created the S.C. Public Charter School District, Brazell said.

Applying to the state district eliminates the need for local approval. But it also eliminates local funding.

A bricks-and-mortar charter school in the state district will receive $5,130 per pupil this year, Brazell said.

In contrast, Riverview Charter School -- Beaufort County's only charter school -- is set to receive $8,616 per pupil this school year, said chief operational services officer Phyllis White.

For a school with 360 students, as the Shell Point Charter School committee has proposed, that difference equates to about $1.3 million.

Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.

Related content

  1. School board votes to close Shell Point Elementary next year, Aug. 5, 2011
  2. Port Royal, Shell Point elementary school supporters rally against possible closings, Aug. 2, 2011