Cumberland Times-News

December 21, 2010

Board denies charter school plan

Kristin Harty Barkley
Cumberland Times-News

— CRESAPTOWN — Allegany County Board of Education members have too many unanswered questions about a proposed new charter school to allow it to open next fall.

The board voted 5-0 Monday night to deny the application of Mountain Maryland Public Charter School, which had planned to use the second and third floors of the former Memorial Hospital to teach 110 children in grades K-4, eventually expanding to K-8.

Superintendent David Cox made public his recommendation to deny the charter school’s application last week, after an exhaustive review by staff.

 “I think one of the take-aways is how complex public education has become,” said board member Mike Llewellyn, who made the motion to deny the charter school application.

“I think it’s just a big monster to tackle. The effort to tackle it was valiant. Unfortunately, when we start talking about public funds and we start talking about kids, I need more certainty.”

Concerns voiced by board members Monday night involved shortcomings in the proposed school’s curriculum, transportation plan, facilities plan and safety — all points outlined in Cox’s 78-page recommendation.

Top administrators for Allegany County Public Schools, who spent more than 1,000 hours reviewing the charter school plan, gave it a score of 15.6 out of 100, using a rubric designed by the Maryland Charter School Network.

“I think they did fairly evaluate the application, and I think they identified the areas they felt were weak in terms of providing the same types of services that are provided to children in the public schools,” said board vice president Tom Striplin, who pointed out several “deficiencies that would need to be addressed” in order for a charter to be granted.

The board discussed the charter school application for about an hour during a work session prior to a 7 p.m. business meeting, when the vote was taken. None of the charter school founders spoke, and there was no dialogue during the public meeting.

Mountain Maryland PCS’s Board of Directors had expected to have an opportunity to discuss board members’ concerns prior to a vote, said Veronica Mingolelli, chairwoman. Cox and several staff members toured the school’s proposed facility earlier this month, and Cox met with founders to discuss curriculum issues, as well.

“It was a little surprising that the questions that the board members had hadn’t been brought up in a different format prior to vote night,” Mingolelli said. “Because there are answers to these questions in our plan and in charter school precedent and practice statewide.”

Disappointed by Monday’s vote, charter school founders — most of whom are parents of school-age children — are considering filing an appeal with the Maryland State Board of Education, Mingolelli said.

The state has 42 charter schools, which serve more than 11,000 children, according to the Maryland Charter School Network. Like other charter schools in Maryland, Mountain Maryland PCS would be tuition-free and have open admission. Its curriculum would be built around “project learning” or learning through real life experience.

In other business Monday night, the board said goodbye to two members who won’t be returning in the new year.

Board President Karen Treber lost her re-election bid in November, and Striplin, who ran for county commissioner, did not seek re-election. Their replacements — Ed Root and Laurie Marchini — will be sworn into office in January.

Contact Kristin Harty Barkley at kbarkley@times-news.com.