The York City School Board unanimously and with little fanfare Wednesday night denied New Hope Academy's five-year charter renewal.
The board, in a statement afterward by its solicitor, said the fifth-12th grade charter school that opened five years ago has not lived up to its academic expectations or followed state guidelines for operation.
New Hope's chief academic officer, Karen Schoonover, said afterward the school will appeal the decision with the state.
"We believe we're doing the right thing," she said.New Hope has not met state standards on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams, but then neither has the school district, Schoonover pointed out. Both New Hope and the district have made improvements in scores in recent years.
Schoonover added that even this past semester, as York City was considering the non-renewal, New Hope had no negative feedback when the district did its regular visit. Actually, York City never has offered negative feedback from site visits, New Hope officials have repeatedly said, which is why when they heard around January York City was pursuing non-renewal, "it came very unexpectedly," Schoonover said.
Solicitor Jeff Gettle, in explaining the board's position, said New Hope's founder, Isiah Anderson, had inappropriate, for-profit connections to the school that caused "conflicts of interest," since it's supposed to be a nonprofit set-up.
Gettle went on to say New Hope was breaking state laws by allowing Anderson's for-profit company 3Cord Inc. run New Hope.
Anderson has denied he has final say and that the nonprofit board of directors runs the school. Charter schools are, according to state law, nonprofits but can have for-profit companies oversee their educational programs.
One vote prevented: Wednesday's decision came on a 5-0 vote, with absolutely no discussion by the board despite having never discussed the findings of the March hearings in public. Gettle had the statement on hand about the board turning down the charter before the vote was taken, as well.
Board members Gregg Nelson, a former New Hope dean of students, and Gary Calhoun, a regular critic of charter schools, were absent. Board member Marshall Leonard had to abstain because he has a son who was employed at New Hope at the time of the hearing.
And board member Beverly Atwater, the senior member of the board in tenure and a charter school supporter, was told by solicitor Jeff Gettle Wednesday she was not allowed to vote, because she did not attend the renewal hearings in March or read the transcript.
Atwater said she will protest with the state, saying there is no state law preventing her from voting. Atwater said she did not attend the hearings because she did not believe they were truly giving "due process" to New Hope.
Gregory H. Gettle, also a solicitor for the district, agreed there is no state law on it, but that the board had decided prior to the hearings that a board member needed to attend some of the hearings or read the transcripts in order to vote. Voting without having done either would not be in the best interest of the board or the public, he said.
The future: New Hope will be allowed to stay open while it appeals, which could take months.
Its chances are about 50/50, according to precedent. Between 7 and 9 charter appeals are heard by the state Charter School Appeals Board under the Department of Education each year since 2005, according to the department. Of the 102 appeals decided in that time period, the local school board's decision has been overturned 45 times.
New Hope already sent a letter to parents as soon as the decision was made.
"We've been very upfront," Schoonover said of any anticipated fallout from New Hope parents."As we anticipated - and planned for - the York City School Board has voted not to renew our charter. Rest assured, despite this decision, new Hope Academy remains focused on the educational and social needs of the children and families we serve," the letter states. "Our school will be open in the fall."
Appeals process: According to the Department of Education, the charter nonrenewal appeals process goes like this:
* New Hope will have to file a petition with the appeals board. Since it is a nonrenewal and not a new charter, New Hope won't need to collect signatures of support.
* A hearing officer will go over evidence for both sides, including testimony from the hearings York City held.
* The officer will present all the information to the appeals board, which will take a vote and then have 60 days to submit a written notice to both sides of its decision.
* If York City's decision is overturned, York City will have to approve the appeals board's ruling or the state will do it for them. If the decision is upheld, New Hope will have to go through York City again in applying for a charter.An exact timeline is hard to pinpoint for New Hope, since it depends on when it appeals, but a decision from the state, which would be final, could be ready by sometime in the fall.
- Reach Andrew Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org