Split Board Rejects Another Charter School Application
The vote was 5-4 for the MaST Charter spinoff.
A split Bensalem school board Wednesday narrowly rejected a charter school application from the same people who operate a highly ranked school in Philadelphia.
The board voted 5-4 to reject the K-12 Isaac Newton Academy Charter School, with new members Kevin McKay, Pamela Strange and Matt Grodsky being joined by Yagnesh Choksi in their support of the proposal.
Board Attorney Thomas Profy III read a short statement immediately after the vote, saying the majority believes the founders failed to demonstrate sustainable community support, the capability to provide a comprehensive learning experience and that the school would me a model for public schools.
The charter rejection was the second one this month.
The board turned thumbs down Feb. 8 on the proposed K-12 Bucks Academy Charter School. That unanimous decision came after Superintendent David Baugh had said the application did not align with state standards.
At the time of Wednesday's vote, none of the board members commented. But several did at the end of the meeting.
A choked-up Ralph Douglass said he was offended by charter school founders who have implied Bensalem Schools aren't models for other schools, and Kim Rivera agreed.
However, their colleagues who supported the INACS proposal stressed they simply favor choice.
"I firmly believe that competition makes everything better," said McKay.
He and Grodsky also said their position should not be taken as a criticism of district schools.
"Without question, our district is phenomenal," Grodsky said. "But the more options parents have, the better for their child."
Wayne Lewis countered that parents have an alternative, since the board last month approved a high school for School Lane Charter School, the township's lone charter school. He said he visited the Math Science and Technology Community Charter School operated by the founders of the proposed Isaac Newton school and was not impressed.
"I didn't see all that much difference educationally. I did see a lot of money spent on frills like their library," he said.
The MAST school was recently named one of the best schools in Philadelphia and was honored in 2007 as the best charter school in the country.
The 5-4 vote followed four residents and one high school student urging the board to reject INACS, with all voicing general displeasure with charter schools while lauding the local district.
Susan Cantwell, of Taft Avenue, said charter schools present problems with building safety and a lack of teacher certifications and retention.
"We don't need charter schools to be a model for Bensalem High School. We are the model," she said.
In addition to this month's decisions, in early December the founder of the Bensalem Entrepreneurial Charter withdrew his application after being question for about three hours by the board and administrators and acknowledging his budget might not be sufficient.
Meanwhile, the founders of another proposed charter school rejected last year are in the process of appealing that decision to the state.
Board President Heather Nicholas sent a letter to parents earlier this week explaining different aspects of the charter school debate including the district's $10,320 cost for every general education student that enrolls in a township charter school. She also pointed to a state auditor's report that says the state funding formula for charter schools is unfair to public schools. She said that formula costs the district $1.1 million per year.
At the same time, Dr. Baugh has said such financial ramifications aren't supposed to be taken into account when the board makes its decisions on charter applications.
The board will reconvene next week to formalize their vote. This meeting is needed to meet the state's 75-day deadline for voting on charter school applications.