by Jonathan Weaver
The Armstrong School District Board of Directors formally voted 8-1 to deny the application of the founding board members to create Everlasting Elderton Charter School.
When the item was to be voted upon, Solicitor Lee Price gave board directors a 17-page document of nearly 30 reasons why the charter school application was denied if in fact that’s how they voted. Price indicated a similar document was also provided at last week’s open caucus session.
Individual reasons were grouped under four categories, including that the application did not meet educational requirements set by the Charter Schools Act, did not demonstrate sufficient community support at the December public meeting or through letters, and did not satisfy a portion of Charter School Law in regards to its intended lease at the Elderton Towne Hall.
“Based upon the inefficiency of the (Everlasting Elderton Charter School) application in meeting the legislative intent for the formation of a charter school…the Armstrong Board of School Directors believes that (Everlasting Elderton Charter School) has not met the standards for the issuance of a charter school,” the document concluded.
Such reasons are also to be mailed to founding board members by the end of the week.
Board Director D. Royce Smeltzer voted to approve the application after the documents were handed out, but his view was not matched to require a roll-call vote. Director Paul Lobby and Vice-President Christopher Choncek then motioned for application denial.
Smeltzer explained his vote.
“I’m pro-choice when it comes to education. I think that a student, child or individual should have all opportunities as to which way they want to go in life, and I think (Everlasting Elderton would have added) a feature in that area – I think that would fill a void in education and offer another choice,” Smeltzer said.
Similarly outlined in the document, Choncek had many questions regarding the charter school that led to his vote.
“I did read the application and addendum and attended the public hearing, and there are still so many questions with regards to education outstanding that I (voted) to not approve the charter school,” Choncek said. “There are a lot of services that currently exist in ASD that I did not see or that were very vague in the charter school application, such as: AP courses, services for gifted, dual enrollment and partnerships with other universities that students currently have.”
He also called the proposed-MicroSociety theme and co-op opportunities “the vaguest of any of these items.”
“I’m not confident that students world get added benefits, that they would get increased opportunities, and ultimately I don’t feel they would get a better education through this charter school philosophy,” Choncek concluded.
Region III Board Director Linda Walker added her concern for special-needs, a teacher policy during required meetings and lack of textbook selection.
“I don’t think the Everlasting Elderton board has an understanding of what it takes, like with the special needs students. I’ve been in the buildings, and those teachers work their tails off,” Walker said.
Earlier in the meeting, Bill Glover of Rural Valley said all information provided exceeded State requirements and an addendum answered questions asked during the public hearing.
Glover said then seven founding board members – all of which in-attendance Monday night – have not heard from the school district since with any further questions or to discuss leasing the former-Elderton Jr.-Sr. High School building.
He predicted the vote might cause students and families to leave the school district attendance areas.
“We (needed) the charter school to try and stop the hemorrhaging of students and families and all the good that comes with them from leaving the area,” Glover said.
After the meeting, Price confirmed all documents were available to the nine board directors, but they were not required to follow-up with the founding board applicants.
Charter school founding board members expressed their disappointment in a more than 500-word press release to media outlets following the public meeting.
“The Everlasting Elderton Charter School Founding Board of Directors is disappointed by Armstrong School District’s decision to deny our charter. We have submitted a plan that offers increased educational opportunities for all students in ASD which would improve upon the learning environment contributing to our student’s achievements. Our mission is to provide parents and pupils with expanded choices in an enhanced public school setting. Unfortunately at this time, ASD does not feel that their students or taxpaying parents deserve another choice in education,” the release stated.
It goes on to read that board directors will review the charter with Mechanicsburg attorney Joshua Pollak and resubmit the application to the school district. If denied again, founding board directors would appeal to the state Charter Appeals Board in Harrisburg – which founding board member Amanda Bartosiewicz addressed in her comments to school directors.
“We don’t want to appeal our application to CAB -the Charter School Appeals Board – but we are prepared to do so,” Bartosiewicz said. “(ASD gave) us no choice.”
Bartosiewicz predicted ASD would have to spend $100,000 to send an attorney to Harrisburg for such proceedings.
“We have full intentions on keeping the community informed about the actions we are taking. The communities in Armstrong and surrounding areas affected by the denial of the charter should not be discouraged. The ASD denial of our charter is a setback, but it was anticipated, and we will continue fighting until another educational option is placed in ASD in the form of Everlasting Elderton Charter School,” the press release concluded.
Smeltzer was also confident those in his district would move past last night’s denial.
“I’ve had disappointments for the last four-or-five years. I wasn’t expecting anything else, to be honest, but I think that strong community will move forward in a positive direction for the betterment of education,” Smeltzer said.
Brainstorms for Everlasting Elderton originated nearly a year ago at a Towne Hall meeting when board directors were considering closing Elderton Jr.-Sr. High School. A formal application was presented November 14, 2012 and a public hearing December 27.
In other news, school directors unanimously approved royal blue and orange as the school colors for the new junior-senior high school in Manor Township. The colors were selected by more than 60 percent of students surveyed.
Kittanning Junior High School Principal Kirk Lorigan confirmed a meeting of student and faculty committee members was held following school Monday and that a survey is being developed to have students vote on the new school’s name and mascot.