Nineteen of the 25 charter schools approved to open across North Carolina in August must do more to show state officials they have the students, classrooms and plans in place to pull it off, according to a report being presented to a state advisory panel Monday.
Eight of 10 approved for the Charlotte region are in that group, and two fall far short of the progress expected at this point, the report shows. The new schools were required to file “ready to open” reports by the end of May.
At that point, new schools are supposed to have 75 percent of their projected enrollment, 75 percent of their faculty identified for hiring, a suitable facility that can be occupied at least two weeks before opening day, and detailed academic and financial plans.
Eight schools are rated as having made “slight progress,” the lowest category. But leaders of the two Charlotte-area schools in that group, Entrepreneur High and A.C.E. Academy, said they’re on track to open.
Hans Plotseneder, founder of Entrepreneur High, said his board is behind only on paperwork: “We are going to be absolutely ready on our opening day on Sept. 2.”
The state is trying to strike a balance between giving families an increased menu of charter school options and ensuring that new schools are high quality. The issue is especially vital in the Charlotte area, where charter growth is most intense.
Charlotte was also home to the troubled StudentFirst Academy, which opened in August 2013 and closed in April. The state approved its charter despite noting shortcomings in the application. By November, the state was investigating reports of mismanagement and academic problems. Details about undocumented expenses, inflated administrator salaries, unpaid bills and middle school students napping during the school day emerged in later legal documents.
Some cited the school’s troubles as a sign that North Carolina moved too fast to approve new schools after lifting the 100-school cap in 2011. Others say the state’s Charter School Advisory Board has swung too far in the other direction. The state received 71 applications for 2015-16, but the board has recommended approval for only 11.
On Monday, that board will get a report on progress toward the 2014 openings. Although 27 were approved, two have requested delays. Of the 25 remaining, 19 are listed as needing some follow-up, ranging from further documentation to mandatory meetings with state officials.
A.C.E Academy, a school in Harrisburg, plans to open with 300 K-5 students from Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties and eventually expand to K-8. Despite the “slight progress” rating, director Laila Minott said the school will be ready.
“There have been many updates since the report was submitted,” she said. “We have 250 students enrolled as of last week, and we are still receiving applications. We have secured our facility.”
Entrepreneur High is a vocational school that plans to open with 180 ninth- and 10th graders. Founders were summoned to a special meeting of the Charter School Advisory Board after the nonprofit governing board that won preliminary approval in September dissolved itself in October. Plotseneder and co-founder Hans Faulstich, who will be administrators and teachers, assured state officials that a new board they created could carry out the mission. Some members of the Charter School Advisory Board raised questions and voiced doubts, but the panel voted unanimously to recommend state approval.
Plotseneder, a former teacher in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, said Wednesday that the school has 207 students enrolled, core teachers hired and a building near Eastland Mall secured. Twelve classrooms will be ready by Aug. 15, he said, with a second phase that includes culinary arts facilities scheduled for completion in October.
“We look bad because we scheduled a lot of administrative paper work for completion in June and July,” Plotseneder emailed. “For example, some of the board policies, a governance exercise, amended budget, testing plans, final insurance policies, licensure renewal plan, employee and student handbooks … All essentials are in great shape. No problem to get these formalities done” in time.
The surge of new charter schools affects state and local education budgets and complicates planning for school districts. New charters often open below projections, but the state provides initial funding based on projections and adjusts later. Districts must pass along a per-pupil share of county money to charter schools.
Enrollment in charter schools isn’t affected by attendance boundaries or county lines, so districts must try to predict which schools will lose students to charter schools. CMS has projected that most of next year’s enrollment growth will be in charters.
Adding to the challenge: Some families apply to several charters and magnet schools, both of which have admission lotteries when there are more applicants than seats. They then make a decision after seeing where their children get accepted and may fail to notify the other schools.