Cumberland Times-News

January 23, 2013

GCEA wary of new public charter school

Elaine Blaisdell
Cumberland Times-News

— OAKLAND — About 14 people spoke regarding the proposed Riverside Academy Charter School application during a public hearing Tuesday at Southern Middle School.

A few members of the Garrett County Education Association voiced concerns about the charter school taking away money from the county’s  public school system.

“GCEA is not opposed in principle to the concept of charter schools,” said Mike Pula, association president and teacher at Northern Middle School. “We are, however, generally opposed to any activity that would drain the precious, few resources we have away from the system as a whole. We would oppose any publicly funded charter opened in Garrett County that would take students, personnel, public dollars away from schools where they are already in short supply.”

Under Maryland law, a county board of education must fund a public charter school with an amount “that is commensurate with the amount disbursed to other public schools in the local jurisdiction,” according to the Maryland State Department of Education.

“We do believe, as the resolution states, that the charter school plans shouldn’t negatively impact a regular public school program,” said Lynne Elmlinger, vice president and government relations chair of GCEA. “Given the fiscal difficulties that the Garrett County public schools have faced, and continues to face, we just have a hard time realizing how any public-funded charter school would not negatively impact the regular public school system.”

Elmlinger requested the board of education consider the lost positions and the closings that the schools have faced. She encouraged board members to protect the programs already in place before funding a public charter school.

Kitzmiller resident Daniel R. Paugh, who is favor of the charter school, said the board won’t be paying the utilities, maintaining the building, paying the staff or providing the transportation at the charter school.

“It’s my understanding that the cost of service that is rendered by the (board of education) would be refunded back to the (board of education) by the charter school,” said Paugh.

Jim Browning Jr., former mayor of Kitzmiller who supports the charter school, asked the board to “take another look. Don’t consider this on the basis of dollars and cents.”

Frank Shap, who is on the board of directors of the Kitzmiller Riverside Academy and is the assistant director of the Garrett County Department of Economic Development, voiced his support of the school.

“I realize that charter schools have a reputation and possibly sometimes a background that is questionable,” said Shap. “If I didn’t feel 100 percent committed that what we are doing is right for the community, right for our children, right for our school board and right for economic development and community development, I wouldn’t have gotten involved. I think it’s the right thing to do for the community, for the county and, most importantly, it’s the right thing to do for our kids.”

The charter school would offer place-based education, Spanish through a partial-immersion program and small blended classrooms of approximately 20 students per teacher for students in grades kindergarten through sixth grade. 

“Research on place-based learning demonstrates that using the local ecology and locations within the community has positive results. These results are positive in both improving academic achievements and engaging youth in school and the community,” said Matthew Paugh, president of the board of directors of Riverside Academy.

The proposed school, which would be located at the former Kitzmiller Elementary School building, would have Head Start and a branch of the Ruth Enlow Public Library available on-site.

If approved, Riverside Academy would be the first public charter school in Western Maryland, according to Paugh.

“We believe that Riverside Academy will add value to the Garrett County public school system,” said Paugh.

“There will be added value in providing an innovative approach to education, where place-based education is built into the very DNA of the school. There will, indeed, be added value in a school that wants to see both students and community thrive.”

The first official application for the charter school was received on Oct. 15, and each subsequent application was viewed by a review committee, according to Barbara Baker, charter school liaison for the public school system.

A recommendation on the application will be made by county Superintendent of Schools Janet Wilson on Tuesday, and during a special meeting on Feb. 7, the board will vote on her recommendation.

Public written comments on the Riverside Academy application will be accepted until Friday.

School board members were present at the meeting but didn’t comment.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.