RALEIGH Eleven new charter schools planning to serve 3,200 students in Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties got the go-ahead to open in August, as the N.C. Board of Education approved 26 new charters on Thursday.
Among the schools winning state approval was Entrepreneur High, which dissolved its board in October and created a new one during the past three months. Members of the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board raised questions about the changes in December but recommended approval for the Charlotte-area vocational/business high school.
For groups of educators, community leaders, business people and education advocates around the state, Thursdays approval is the culmination of a year or more of planning.
State school board member Olivia Oxendine said it is amazing that 26 new schools are ready to open.
I wish them all the best as they get started, she said during a committee discussion of charters Wednesday. This is great.
For families, especially in the Charlotte region, the new schools mean an unprecedented menu of tuition-free options.
The 11 new schools in Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties will bring the total to 37 charter schools in the Charlotte region, far more than any other part of North Carolina.
The charters have gone through a months-long screening process, being reviewed by staff from the state Office of Charter Schools and the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board before getting preliminary approval from the Board of Education on Sept. 5. The goal is to ensure that boards have a viable education and business plan before authorizing them to operate as alternative public schools.
Founders of Entrepreneur High were summoned back to Raleigh in December to answer questions from the state advisory board about the churn in leadership. In a move charter officials said they had never seen before, Entrepreneurs board voted to dissolve itself in October. Two founders, Hans Plotseneder and Hans Faulstich, then created a new board to carry out the plan for a European-style trade school that will teach business, manufacturing, construction and automotive skills.
The founding board, whose members took part in the screening interviews, had split over trying to find a school location and decide how to finance it. Two members met with officials from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Olympic High School to discuss similar plans to create a manufacturing school in southwest Charlotte and work with German companies in that area. Entrepreneur board members had hoped CMS might lease space for the new charter school.
Instead, CMS launched its own new manufacturing program at Olympic, building on existing partnerships with European companies nearby. Plotseneder, a retired CMS teacher, accused Mike Horrigan, the member who initiated the CMS talks, of trying to sell out the charter school and subvert its independence.
On Oct. 5, when the board couldnt agree on a location, Plotseneder made a successful motion to dissolve the board. He later told the state advisory board he was just trying to end the deadlock and create a better-functioning board.
We are now stronger after the board restructure than we were before, he told the advisory board at its Dec. 10 meeting.
Some members of the board raised doubts about whether the mostly new board was prepared to carry out the plan.
I think you have a wonderful idea. I love what youre doing. What scares me is that the organization to make it happen doesnt feel really strong yet, said advisory board Chairman Helen Nance, chief administrator of a charter school in Misenheimer.
Tom Miller, the Office of Charter Schools staffer assigned to monitor Entrepreneur, had also raised concerns when he learned of the boards dissolution and reconstitution.
This significant board turnover is a definitive cause for concern, he said in an Oct. 23 email to Horrigan asking for an explanation of the vote.
Horrigan, who did not appear at the December advisory board meeting, replied to Miller that he believed the push to open Entrepreneur High had ended. The charter boards bylaws require three members, Horrigan said, which he interpreted to mean Plotseneder and Faulstich couldnt act as a board and appoint new members.
Members of the state advisory board also raised questions about Entrepreneur bylaws that would allow Plotseneder and Faulstich to remain as voting members of the governing board while serving in paid leadership positions at the charter school. The advisory board voted to recommend approving Entrepreneurs charter if the board revised those bylaws.
On Wednesday, state charter school Director Joel Medley told the Board of Education committee that the change had been made. Entrepreneur High now has six voting members on its governing board, none of whom was part of writing the application or doing the screening interviews. Two were appointed after the Dec. 10 meeting with the advisory board. Plotseneder and Faulstich are now listed as nonvoting board members.