Blount County School Board denies Hope Academy a second time

The Blount County School Board on Thursday night denied the amended application to start a charter school STEM academy in Blount County.

Founding members say the Hope Academy would be a charter school focused on science, technology, engineering and math. The board of Innovative Educational Partnership wants to open The Hope Academy in fall of 2012 but to do so, the Tennessee State Board of Education will have to overrule the decision made by the Blount County School Board.

This is the second time the board has denied an application by the partnership. The body denied the first application filed in August. State law dictates that charter schools must fall under the governance of the Local Education Authority, which in this area would be Blount County, Maryville or Alcoa school boards. The organizers have the right to appeal the denial to the state board of education. The state board can either uphold the LEA’s decision or reverse it.

The vote was the only item on the agenda for the special called meeting, which lasted less than 5 minutes.

Blount County Schools director Rob Britt praised the members of Innovative Educational Partnership board for their efforts in researching and developing the application they prepared for their proposed charter school.

“I’ve become convinced they are passionate about creating an extraordinary education opportunity for their children,” he said.

Britt thanked the central office staff for their efforts in reviewing the application and the amended application. “I continue to be impressed with their depth of knowledge and experience in this process,” he said.

Britt thanked the school board for their efforts in reviewing what is the first charter school application in the state in a suburban area. “This board has navigated unchartered waters and has done so in a professional manner,” he said.

Britt said there are still significant concerns about student enrollment, instructional programming, including the delivery of special education services and fiscal planning.

“In the review of the amended application, we determined that the authorization of this charter school would be contrary to the best interests of all Blount County students and would pose a considerable negative fiscal impact to the overall district,” he said. “Based on my staff’s review and scoring of this amended application, it is my recommendation to deny this application,” he said.

Board member Dr. Don McNelly made the motion to deny the request, and board member Brad Long seconded it. McNelly, Long and board members Rob Webb, Mike Treadway and Charles Finley voted to deny the application. Board member Chris Cantrell was absent.

Mary Bogart, president of the board of Innovative Educational Partnership, said, “We will be submitting a letter to the state board of education to appeal.”

Treadway said this has been an interesting process. “The dialogue regarding education has been fruitful. It has challenged us to look at the way we’re delivering education. Their application was thorough. My biggest concern was where we are financially,” he said. “I felt like this was going to create a lot of unnecessary stress on our system.”

Treadway said he is not philosophically opposed to a charter school. “But this is not the one we need,” he said.

Treadway said if there was a charter school geared toward students who are struggling academically, that would be something the system needs. “That would be a good use of tax dollars,” he said.

Following the meeting, Britt said, “I don’t see this as the end, but rather the beginning of a great discussion about how we continue to improve how we provide educational success to our students.”

Britt said the application process has challenged the system to look at how it provides education in the areas of math, science, technology and engineering. “We’re very proud of our improvements in our school system, but we’re not satisfied with where we are, and we are moving forward with our strategic plan to improve,” he said.

Tab Burkhalter, District 1-B Blount County commissioner, is a Maryville attorney serving on the board working to start the Hope Academy. He said the board will get statements from the board regarding their objections to the amended application. At that point, the board will submit their application to the state board of education, he said.

“We will get the written objections from the school board, and then we will file an appeal with the Tennessee Department of Education,” he said. “From there, it is in their hands.”

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Comments » 2

enoughalready writes:

Well done Blount County School Board! Schools in Blount County, Maryville City, and Alcoa City systems are doing very good jobs educating the children of our area. Practices are being used everyday and EVERYONE benefits from them. This is proven by exceptionally high test scores and now SCORE is honoring Maryville City Schools as being one of the top 3 systems in the state for student growth. Public education is working here.

Charter schools have a mediocre history at best. Several research reports show charter schools can have positive impact where school systems are failing - this is obviously not the case here. However, several research reports also show the negative impact charter schools have on public school funding (see any number of US Department of Education reports).

This begs the question, why in the world would Blount County/Maryville City/Alcoa City citizens want their tax dollars diverted away from something that is working (and working well) to something that, at best, is a gamble and at worst statistically unproven?

Public education should not in the business of making a small group happy at the expense of the vast majority. Thank you Blount County School Board for your votes!

HoratioBunce writes:

"we determined that the authorization of this charter school...would pose a considerable negative fiscal impact to the overall district,"

"My biggest concern was where we are financially,"

Obviou$ly, the children come fir$t. As long as the status quo education monopoly continues to be the gatekeeper for any competitor, this will be the result. It's like forcing Lowe's to get permission from Home Depot before they can open a store.

With Blount County spending $8284, Maryville at $9403 and Alcoa at $10,128 per student per year, while local private schools are operating in the $6k range, they ought to be exceptional - their spending sure is. Plus, if they are so great and everyone is just happy as can be, then the new charter would close up rather quickly, no?

Public charters ARE public schools (by definition they use public funds). They use LESS funds because they do not receive the federal funding portion that the existing public schools do. Because they do not take the federal carrot, they don't have to jump through the same federal hoops - something your local public school is currently enjoying with NCLB and the new-and-improved Common Core State Standards courtesy of the federal government. The only question I'm begging is: why should Blount County taxpayers spend 50%+ more for a public school education that is performing so well that we are begging Obama and Arne Duncan for a get-out-of-school-free waiver on the federal adequate yearly progress requirements?

"Public education should not [sic] in the business of making a small group happy at the expense of the vast majority."

That's rich irony considering the public system exists largely on the forced benevolence of every single property owner at the threat of losing their real property via tax liens. How many of those parents at Maryville or Alcoa will fork over $9-10k per year per student? That's exactly what this small group is asking their neighbors to do. It's also what has Blount County a quarter billion in variable rate debt.

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