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December 12, 2012

Board to consider charter school at special meeting

NEW CASTLE — New Castle Area School Board members said they will call a special meeting to consider a proposed charter school.

How much time they have is the question.

At Monday’s work session, district solicitor Charles Sapienza advised board members they should meet soon — possibly next week — to decide whether they will accept or reject an application for the New Castle Arts Charter Academy. They also plan to conduct a public hearing.

The district received the application Nov. 15. Meanwhile, the academy organizers have been conducting public meetings at the library to unveil plans for a kindergarten through eighth-grade school that would offer fine arts and languages, including Spanish and Chinese, in addition to regular curriculum.

The school would be located in either the former Day’s Inn downtown or a West Washington Street building that has housed the New Castle Regional Ballet.

Charter school funding — or tuition — is derived from the state subsidy a school district receives. The education subsidy is given for each student in the district and the money follows the student.

Sapienza recommended the board call a special public meeting solely for discussing the charter school proposal. The board should vote on the application before adjourning, he advised.

“I think it’s very important that you have all of the information before you vote,” he said.

A date has not yet been set for that meeting, although it could be as early as Monday. Board members are waiting to hear when their deadline is for making a decision, after confusion about the time frame.

Meanwhile, Sapienza and district administrators will gather information about the legalities. Superintendent George Gabriel, who is on sick leave, did not attend Monday’s meeting.

Sapienza pointed out the charter school anticipates a startup date of Aug. 22.

“Won’t this take students away from our district?” board member Stacey Fleo asked.

“It can, and it will, and it will be taking subsidies away from the district,” Sapienza said.

“There are a lot of issues surrounding this,” commented Stanley Magusiak, assistant to the superintendent. “You have to approve it or reject it, but the department of education can override it in the appeal process.”

Magusiak was to contact the state Tuesday to learn more about the district’s responsibilities and what happens if the board denies the application.

District business manager Joe Ambrosini suggested the district also contact the Pittsburgh city school district, which has been through the process.

“I feel like it’s the 11th hour here,” board member Dr. Marilyn K. Berkely commented.

Ambrosini noted the district has no children in kindergarten or elementary school enrolled in any charter or cyberschools.

Because the charter school will draw money from the district, board member Barbara Razzano commented, “It would almost be stupid on our part to say yes.”

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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