Representatives of a nationally recognized charter school group plan a swift appeal of the Anne Arundel County school board's rejection of their bid to serve struggling middle-schoolers in Annapolis.
"We would like to move forward as quickly as possible," said Lizz Pawlson, a member of the founding board for the KIPP Harbor Academy.
KIPP, or Knowledge Is Power Program, operates 38 schools targeting low-performing students around the country. School board members voted 5-3 against KIPP's proposal to open a school in Annapolis that would seek to address the achievement gap between black and white students on state tests. But the school board voted 6-2 in favor of Chesapeake Science Point, a science and technology charter planned for Glen Burnie.
Yesterday, Pawlson was gathering information, including transcripts of the comments of staff members, to "figure out where if anywhere there was less certainty with our program."
She said the group would continue searching for a facility, recruiting students and meeting with parents and others in the community. Organizers still hope to offer three weeks of summer school at the KIPP Harbor Academy before opening in the fall.
"We're going to keep doing everything we need to do so we can open on time," Pawlson said.
Under a recently passed Maryland law, local school boards approve applications for charter schools - which are publicly funded but free of some of the constraints of the public school system. If rejected, proposed schools can appeal to the state board of education. The board would have 120 days to issue a written decision.
The discussion at Wednesday's meeting focused on problems with the state's charter school law as well as concerns about the applications.
Both schools' proposals scored just above the middle of a rating scale developed by school system staff members. At the meeting, staff detailed nearly identical concerns about each school, including the ability to meet mandates under the No Child Left Behind Act, finding a facility that meets federal disability regulations and financing the total proposal.
As a result, Superintendent Eric J. Smith had recommended approval of both schools contingent upon negotiation and board approval of a "charter agreement" that would address these questions. Chesapeake Science Point must develop such an agreement by May 18.
But board members questioned this two-step process. "We're expected to vote on something we don't have the answers to," said Tricia Johnson.
The school board approved Chesapeake's request after a motion to deny it failed. The six board members who ultimately supported Chesapeake were: Johnson, Paul Rudolph, Eugene Peterson, Michael G. Leahy, Konrad Wayson and student member Sarah Ferguson. Voting against it were Michael J. McNelly and board president Edward P. Carey.
Johnson, Ferguson and Wayson joined McNelly and Carey in voting against KIPP. Rudolph, Peterson and Leahy backed the group's application.
McNelly said of his votes against both schools: "I think it's going to be very difficult for anybody to sit down and take care of all these concerns."
Wayson said he supported the conditional approval of Chesapeake only after a motion to deny its application was defeated. "Now they still have to come back to us for approval once they answer all the questions to our satisfaction" in the charter agreement, he said.
Ferguson, a senior at Arundel High School, said she wasn't sure why the votes for the two schools were different. But she said Chesapeake Science Point, which was starting from scratch, "seemed to be more willing to consider what we wanted of them."
Johnson, who voted against KIPP, said it was a "terrific" program. But she noted that the board was told that KIPP would drain students away from two under-enrolled middle schools in Annapolis, where reforms are under way.
That argument does not seem logical to Carl O. Snowden, an aide to County Executive Janet S. Owens and advocate for the African-American community. The schools are under-enrolled because families are choosing private schools, he said.
"Their parents do not have the confidence in the current Annapolis feeder system," Snowden said.
Last year, the percentage of eighth-graders at Annapolis Middle School performing well on the Maryland School Assessments who were African-American, low income or in special education was lower than state progress goals.
"Clearly what we've been doing is not meeting the goals that the superintendent has put forward," Snowden said. "An alternative is something we should be exploring."
Nearly 91 percent of sixth-graders of KIPP Ujima Village Academy in Baltimore reached state targets on the math exam. So did about 89 percent of fifth-graders - the highest scores in the city.
In other business, the board voted 5-3 in favor of a "priority list" for the $735 million budget request forwarded to the county. County officials praised the move to identify spending priorities. The priority list had failed to muster the five votes needed when Carey was absent from a recent meeting to adopt the budget, but Carey provided the fifth vote on Wednesday.
But Smith emphasized that these priorities did not match the district's goals.
"We do not have enough revenue to operate all the mandatory aspects of Anne Arundel County schools," Smith said.
Carey said prioritization was important, given limited funds to pay for services.