The Anne Arundel County Board of Education has approved the expansion of a charter middle school through ninth grade, despite strong reservations from Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell and his senior staff.
In a major victory for the five-year-old school, the board voted 6-3 Wednesday to allow Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School to add ninth-graders in the fall, as well as expand the number of current sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.
The decision followed nearly four hours of debate over the school's ability to meet the state's complex high school curriculum requirements and its efficiency in managing its budget.
Dozens of parents of Chesapeake students attended the meeting, testifying that their children have received excellent educations at the school.
"I believe common sense won," said Fatih Kandil, the school's principal, after the board cast its vote, which was followed by cheering from the audience. "We will do everything we can not to let that common sense that supported us tonight down."
Maxwell had recommended that the board allow the school to expand to both ninth and 10th grades in the fall of 2011, a timeline that he thought would allow the school enough time to properly adhere to school system guidelines. Among the shortfalls Maxwell outlined were the lack of comprehensive high school curriculum, the school's apparent inability to insert student schedules into a schoolwide database and budget plans.
Chesapeake school officials disputed Maxwell's contentions and pushed for the expansion for next fall, saying that Maxwell's timeline could financially hurt the school. Though public charter schools such as CSP can seek outside funding, they are largely financed by the local school district.
The county schools have a $45 million budget deficit this fiscal year and are expecting similar - if not worse - budget constraints next fiscal year. Maxwell's proposed $981 million operating budget currently contains no funding for Chesapeake's expansion.
Throughout the meeting, the expansion plans seemed doomed as several board members argued with CSP officials over budget issues, and some said emphatically that they would not vote for the school to expand.
Board member Victor E. Bernson, a strong CSP proponent, proposed an alternative: allow Chesapeake to expand only to ninth grade and increase its current middle school enrollment. Bernson's proposal requires the expansion plans to be completed by Aug. 1, with regular reports filed to the board in the interim.
Board members Eugene Peterson, Teresa Milio-Birge and Andrew Pruski voted against the expansion.
"At the end of the day, it was a question of will," said Bernson. "We want this to work. We really want them to flourish. Hopefully, this will force them to stop giving excuses on both sides."
CSP, which puts a strong emphasis on math and science, has had success academically, with students scoring among the top statewide on standardized tests.
In 2006, though, the school was placed on probation after failures in lease and budget record-keeping and a lack of certified special-education teachers. The school was eventually allowed off probation and has continued to do well academically. In early 2009, the school moved to a new building that is three times larger than its former location, with plans to expand to a high school, a longtime goal.