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School Board OKs policy for public charter schools

October 22, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Board of Education on Tuesday voted 7-0 to approve a policy that will allow the School Board to authorize public charter schools.

In Washington County, a charter school would mean a public school that is nonsectarian in all of its programs, policies and operations, and a school to which parents could choose to send their children, Tammy L. Turner, the School Board's chief legal counsel, has said. A public charter school may not be a private, parochial school or home school, she has said.

After the meeting, School Board President Bernadette M. Wagner said adopting a policy, an act that is required by the state, will give those interested in charter schools a chance to review the policy.

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After the meeting, Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said having the policy in place also will help to put the school system in line for charter school funding from the state and federal governments.

Morgan said aside from the proposed fine arts school to be located in downtown Hagerstown, which could be opened as a charter-like school, other "ideas are on the drawing board."

Without going into details, Morgan said there is the possibility of starting a high-technology charter school and a biomedical technology charter school.

During the meeting, School Board member Roxanne R. Ober said the board is fortunate to have legal counsel to help draft the policy. She said she has learned that some school boards in the state do not have an attorney on staff.

Turner said nothing changed in the policy between its first reading two weeks ago and its final reading Tuesday.

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, Turner has said.

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

He has 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, Giles said.

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

Turner said teachers in charter schools must meet highly qualified standards as set by the state through the federal No Child Left Behind act.

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

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