Moving to Blount? Proposed Hope Academy will seek home with Blount County Schools

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The Hope Academy charter school that residents in community are organizing is changing directions after the new charter school state law passed last week. The organizers of the proposed school intended to make application to fall under Alcoa’s Local Education Authorithy (LEA).

Now they are planning to apply to the Blount County School System.

Tab Burkhalter, the legal advisor for the group, said the legislation passed last week said that a charter school can not “have substantial economic impact on the LEA it will be located in,” said Burkhalter.

Alcoa is a small schools system, said Burkhalter. “When we submit our application, we have to tell them the maximum number of students we can accept each year. Our application indicates we will accept 180 students. Our 180 students would represent over 10 percent of the current Alcoa school system population. So as to not get into a potential budget problem or fiscal problem with Alcoa and with the new law, we felt it safer to go to Blount County and do a charter school in Blount County.”

Burkhalter said the legislation recently passed says that the money follows the students. Each LEA that has a student attending a charter school pays the LEA where the school is located for that student. “If the students comes from Knox County to the charter school, Knox County would pay the LEA for the student, based on the per pupil cost for the child going to the school,” he said.

The attorney and District 1-B County commissioner said the primary purpose for initially going to Alcoa was because the school system had an open Local Education Authority policy that would allow children to come from other school districts. “With the new charter law that passed in Nashville, we can place a charter school in Blount County and students from Anderson, Sevier and Knox counties as well as Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County can all attend the charter school if they so desire,” he said.

The charter group had intended to submit the application to Alcoa and the state by June 1. That has now been pushed back at least 10 days, said Burkhalter.

“We are going to be placing our application for a charter school in Blount County,” he said. “Right now, we are looking at submitting our application within the next 10 days. Before we submit our application, our goal is to make contact with each Blount County school board member. We want to have a work session sometime in July with a vote on our charter application within a couple days of that work session.”

Burkhalter said members of the committee organizing the academy are looking at two facilities. “We are looking at the old Fairview Church off Old Niles Ferry Road, and we are looking at the Apostolic church and school location that is near William Blount High School,” he said.

Burkhalter said he has not spoken with the entire school board yet regarding the 350-page application. “I have spoken briefly with schools director Rob Britt and a few members of the school board. Their primary concern that needs to be addressed is the financial impact of charter schools on the Blount County schools budget,” he said.

Burkhalter said the academy will have an open policy and the students will not come from Blount County schools alone but from other systems around the area. “Therefore it distributes the financial cost of charter school around. Roughly 70 percent of the funding for the school comes from the student’s home LEA and the remaining 30 percent will have to be augmented by donations,” Burkhalter said. “We will have to get community involvement and support behind what we are doing.”

The attorney said he and other committee members want to speak with members of the school board individually to ensure they understand what is inside the application. “It is over 350 pages long, so we want to give a personal touch to each person before we submit it,” he said. “We’re still looking at a 10-day period before we submit it.”

Burkhalter said that the current law state is that if a charter isn’t voted on within 60 days of its submittal, it automatically passes. “We want to work with Blount County to have an open work session where it can be discussed and properly voted on in that time period. We know the month of June will be eaten up with budget meetings and getting budget policies set for upcoming school year,” Burkhalter said.

For more information about Hope Academy, contact Burkhalter at 865-984-4080. Parents interested in being placed on the academy contact list should visit www.hopeacademyTN.org to sign up. The Hope Academy will notify those individuals of the enrollment process, including deadlines for applications. HOPE Academy also has a Facebook Page that will be updated regularly.

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