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School Board approves charter school policy

October 08, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Board of Education on Tuesday approved 6-0 the first reading of a policy that would allow the School Board to authorize public charter schools.

School Board Member W. Princeton Young was absent during the vote.

Under the Maryland Public Charter School Act, enacted last session by Gov. Robert Ehrlich, local school boards are given the authority to oversee charter schools opened in their school systems, said Tammy L. Turner, the School Board's chief legal counsel.

In Washington County, a charter school would mean a public school that is nonsectarian in all its programs, policies and operations, and a school to which parents could choose to send their children, she said. A public charter school may not be a private, parochial school or home school, she said.

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During the work session, the School Board reviewed a draft of an application process and a draft of the policy for charter schools.

Turner said there was great debate during the past legislative session about whether local school systems should be responsible for overseeing charter schools, but in the end, the Maryland Association of Boards of Education won the fight.

The school system would fund the charter schools based on the amount of money it receives from the state per student, said Roger Giles, the school system's director of funded and special programs.

He said the earliest a charter school could open would be fall 2005. The process to apply to become a charter school would begin in January 2004 for a fall 2005 start, he said. Applying to become a charter school would be about a two-year process, but there is no strict time-frame limit, Giles said.

Turner said local school boards would be responsible for negotiating with applicants the length of the school day and school year, and also would be responsible for assigning teachers to the school. Teachers assigned to the charter schools would be employed by Washington County Public Schools, she said.

Charter school teachers must meet the same highly qualified standards under the federal No Child Left Behind Act as school system teachers, she said.

The federal act is designed to close the achievement gap between schools and make sure all students, including disadvantaged groups, are academically proficient.

Ron Peppe, president of the Frederick County (Md.) Board of Education, was at the work session Tuesday to share his experiences in dealing with charter schools. Frederick County Public Schools has one charter school that started operating two years ago, before the state act was created.

Peppe said charter schools must follow the school system's curriculum to the point that their students are expected to pass the Maryland Schools Assessment. Students at the charter school will have to pass the standardized test this year.

"We are vested to make sure these schools succeed," Turner said.

The School Board will make its final decision on the policy at its Oct. 21 meeting.

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