06/05/12 — Schools frown on proposal for virtual school

View Archive

Schools frown on proposal for virtual school

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 5, 2012 1:46 PM

Wayne County Board of Education Monday night adopted an interim budget for the summer months, supported a proposal to expand grades served at Wayne School of Engineering and joined other school districts in adopting a resolution to stall a virtual charter school.

The $45.9 million interim budget, which will cover district expenses July through September, was based on original figures submitted this year for the 2012-13 budget, said Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for finance. She said she divided the original $183.6 million budget by one-fourth to derive the total.

The interim budget is in some respects a formality, but requires board approval since the state is currently still negotiating its budget.

Broken down, it equates to $30.1 million for the state portion, $6.1 million in local funds, $6 million in federal dollars, $818,924 for capital outlay, and $2.2 million for child nutrition.

Gary Hales, principal at Wayne School of Engineering, received approval to recruit students from middle grades to the STEM school, which features a strong concentration in science, technology, engineering and math.

He had approached two committees of the board last month with a proposal to add grades 6-8. He said he aimed to begin recruiting fifth-graders and ultimately have 57 students per grade level as it evolves to a grade 6-13 school -- the additional year, he explained, is to allow for those completing a two-year college degree.

Hales said letters to fifth-grade parents were mailed out last week. Board member Rick Pridgen asked if that had generated any interest.

"It's been a very positive response," Hales said, adding that applications are available on the school district website, waynecountyschools.org. Deadline is June 28.

Charter schools, both potential and virtual, were also topics of discussion at the meeting.

Bob Jackson, chairman of the county Republican party, addressed the board about bringing charter schools to the district. He said last fall a group had put together a school board for a charter school, along with an application to proceed with such a school when legislators lifted the cap on them. The charter was later turned down, but has since been re-submitted.

"I would suggest that charter schools, whether we like it or whether we don't, is a thing of the future," he said. "I would think that the public and Wayne County would rather have people involved in these schools that know what they're doing and have done it before and know the process, to be doing it rather than someone who doesn't know what they're doing.

"I would hope and ask that if you could not respond with a somewhat favorable response that at least it be neutral. We would like very much to have a charter school in Wayne County."

Jackson's remarks were made during public comment. The board traditionally does not respond.

Later in the meeting, when discussing a resolution about a virtual charter school, the board noted that the matter was unrelated to what Jackson brought up.

Rather, said board attorney Jack Edwards, it pertained to an application approved in Cabarrus County to establish a virtual charter school that could potentially serve 2,750 students from across the state beginning in August.

In March, the E-Learning Commission reportedly had not completed sufficient study on issues such as funding and academic achievement. Then in May, an administrative law judged ruled in favor of granting the application and moving forward with the August start date.

Districts should be concerned, Edwards said, because of the potential to be obligated to pay per-pupil expenses for any students, particularly previously home-schooled students, who decide to transfer to the charter school. Home-schooled students are not typically covered by local district funds, but if enrolled in the charter school, would be.

Since the schools' budget has already been submitted, and the boards of education have not had adequate time to study the proposal and plan accordingly, the resolution was drafted to seek intervention of pending litigation in the matter being drawn up by the state Board of Education.

Forty-five boards have already joined in the lawsuit, Edwards said, and another 35 are anticipated, to prevent the school from proceeding pending further study.

"What we're about to do is not a vote against charter schools," said board chairman Eddie Radford, adding that it was more about concerns and ramifications of pulling students from this district.

"A lot of issues are pointed out in the resolution," Edwards said. "A lot of funding issues are not clear. We have no control over this. The school would be established. It could draw students from all over the state."

Board member Rick Pridgen also expressed concern.

"Our governor rolled out the N.C. virtual high school program," he said. "I cannot see why a virtual charter school would have anything to offer that that program does not have to offer to any resident in North Carolina. I can't see any value to a virtual charter school."

The board approved the resolution, by a vote of 3-0. Three members -- Thelma Smith, John P. Grantham and Len Henderson -- were absent, and Radford, as chairman, does not vote.