Uncharted Pt. 2: Application questions remain as process nears end
Most of the application process is over for the Loudoun Math and IT Academy, but the final stretch may be the toughest. The reviews and work sessions by the School Board’s charter school committee will occur within two months with the final vote by the School Board coming after.
Virginia law requires that a charter school application first be reviewed by the Virginia State Board of Education before a review by the local School Board where the school will be started.
The application was then forwarded to Loudoun County Public Schools, whose staff conducted a review of the application at the School Board’s request.
No law, however, prohibits the school system from working with the applicants prior to the state’s review.
Deputy Superintendent Ned Waterhouse presented results at an Oct. 24 school board meeting.
The application must address 13 components, including curriculum, finances, facilities and personnel issues.
If the School Board does not approve the charter, the applicants have 60 days to file for reconsideration.
Nearing the end of the process
The School’s Board charter school committee has less than two weeks left in its review of the school and has yet to receive a substantially updated version of the charter school’s application, according to Waterhouse.
Waterhouse called the application “not complete,” and suggested that it would be extremely difficult for the school to open by fall of 2013, the projected opening date.
The school system did receive an updated application Nov. 7 from the applicants which integrated the original application and comments from the state Board of Education’s evaluation.
Waterhouse said delay in updates made it more difficult for the school system to present detailed information about the application to the School Board.
“We would have been way more comfortable having the responses sooner,” Waterhouse said. “That’s gonna leave a week until the ad hoc committee concludes its work. I don’t know what they’re gonna give us.”
The applicants told the School Board at the Nov. 29 charter school committee work session that full responses to staff comments would be given to them Dec. 6.
The committee plans to make its recommendation to the full School Board at its last meeting on Dec. 13, a week from then.
Waterhouse said it was in the applicants’ best interest to provide as many details as possible.
“We need a firehose of information that gets to things that we say we don’t have,” Waterhouse said.
The School Board criticized the applicants vague descriptions of curriculum at the Nov. 29 meeting and Waterhouse described the portion of the application as “the area we have the most questions about.”
A Balance of Public and Private
Charter schools are a balance of public and private financing – the school system is required to provide financing for each student on a cost-per-pupil basis, the same as with a public school.
They must also fund the school with proportionate state and federal aid for special education students.
However, charter schools also have the flexibility to seek private funding for construction and operating costs.
Sharon Inetas, one of the applicants handling the business and finances of the school, said the numbers in the budget were conservative on the assumption the school system would be able to provide more than the minimum funding.
“We have back up plans,” Inetas said.
The applicants applied for a federal grant for the proposed school, but it was denied as the school has not yet been given a charter.
“It’s uncharted waters in this county,” Inetas said. “We also talked to Loudoun County Public Schools and had them go over our budgets. We really actually didn’t get too much feedback ... for the most part they looked in line.”
Inetas said the school would rely on low-rate loans and grants if public school funding wasn’t enough. She said companies in the community had shown interest in helping fund the school.
“I’ve polled the business community,” Inetas said. “They’re very pro for the charter school.”
The Loudoun Science Academy
While this is not the first charter school application in Loudoun, it is the first to be so thoroughly reviewed.
In 2006, an application for a Loudoun Science Academy charter school was submitted to the system.
The charter school was proposed with a curriculum emphasizing the teaching of natural sciences, math and global languages, according to the 2006 application.
It aimed to offer a “hands-on experience with a state-of-the-art technology lab and instruments.”
There was no specific model for the school.
The state laws governing the process were different, according to Waterhouse. Since Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) was elected in 2009, the laws governing the charter school approval and application process changed drastically.
In 2006, the School Board was not mandated by law to review an application and no separate committee was formed from the School Board to do so.
Waterhouse and school system also presented a report evaluating the application. He said the Board had an action meeting where they asked questions of the applicants and then voted it down.
He said he did not recall the same level of public interest for that application as the community has seen this time.
“I don’t recall that there was a very significant number of people who made comments about it on either side,” Waterhouse said.
This is the second of a three-part series on the Loudoun Math & IT Academy’s proposed charter. The first installment focused on the background and motivations of the applicants and the third discuss criticism of the project.
Editor’s Note: Ali Gokce is the executive director of the project and husband of a former employee of the Loudoun Times-Mirror. This relationship has had no impact on coverage of this charter school application.