Charter school's deadline a worry

Not enough time to negotiate agreement, organizers say

County system's deadline is May 4

April 24, 2005|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Organizers of a proposed charter school planned to open in Glen Burnie in the fall have raised serious concerns about their ability to negotiate an agreement with the school system by the county's deadline.

Members of Chesapeake Lighthouse Foundation, seeking to operate the Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School, received a draft agreement last week from the school system.

"With the draft as it stands, there's no way we could actually successfully operate the school," said Vural "Al" Aksakalli, CLF's project manager.

On Friday, he sent a letter detailing concerns about the draft agreement, including control over of the hiring and firing of teachers and instructional review, to the school board, county school officials and members of the state legislative delegation.

School officials said they could not comment on the letter because county schools and central offices were closed Friday for a spring vacation day.

"We still need time for our legal counsel to review it," said county schools spokesman Jonathan Brice.

Two organizations have submitted applications for charter schools, which are publicly funded but run by private entities that operate independent of the school system.

If approved, Chesapeake Science Point would offer a program focused on math, science and technology for middle and high school students.

The second proposed charter school, KIPP Harbor Academy in Annapolis, would be part of a national group of schools aimed at students who would be the first in their families to attend college.

KIPP representatives received a similar proposal and have some concerns over the contract, but said they remain hopeful they can work out a final agreement. They declined to disclose specific problems because they are in negotiations.

However, "given the quick timeline that's been imposed, I'm a little nervous about making sure we're given adequate time" to work with school officials, said Lizz Pawlson, one of KIPP's founding board members.

County school board members voted last month to give initial approval to both schools' applications, pending negotiation of a legally binding "charter school agreement." That allowed the schools to search for facilities and accept applications.

School board members will consider the charter agreements at their May 18 meeting. But Aksakalli said his organization received the draft document last week and must complete its review and respond to the school system by Thursday. That leaves three business days to negotiate changes before the school system's May 4 deadline, a time frame Aksakalli says might not be workable.

"Thus, we are given just a few days to actually negotiate the terms of an agreement that will bind us for the next five years and govern every single aspect of our school's operations," Aksakalli wrote in his letter.

Aksakalli said the draft includes several items that he says would reduce the flexibility and autonomy of the school. It also does not reflect the organizational structure the founding group designed, he said.

Aksakalli said his group will continue to work toward an agreement.

"To the fullest extent of the capacity of our group, we're going to work with the county to come up with something that's workable and allows us to start a school that includes all the accountability that the county is asking for," he said in a telephone interview.

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