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.”