Peach BOE denies charter school petition

jmink@macon.comJuly 30, 2013 

FORT VALLEY -- The Peach County Board of Education denied Tuesday a petition to open a charter school in Byron.

Now, the charter school members will await a vote from the state Board of Education, which can override the local school board and approve the charter high school.

Charter members said they were not surprised by the outcome. Still, “this was a loss tonight,” B.J. Walker, a charter school board member, said. The charter school system wanted to work with the local school district, he said.

The board voted 4 to 1 during its work session to deny the petition, with Vice Chairman Ben McDaniel voting in favor of the charter school. The school board had 60 days after receiving the petition to approve or deny it, which is why the vote was taken during a work session.

A district review team read the petition and recommended denial because of deficiencies found within the petition, the financial impact it would have on the school system, and due to court-ordered desegregation that has been in place for decades and requires Peach County to get approval from the U.S. Department of Justice before opening a new school, Superintendent Joe Ann Denning said.

Board members who opposed the petition said they were concerned about the financial impact, and they believed students could get the same education within Peach County schools.

A big reason Chairman Jamie Johnson voted against the petition was because he did not believe it showed how the charter school would differ from Peach County High School.

“We are currently doing the exact same thing,” Johnson said. “The issue with approving the charter school is that it has to bring uniqueness, and I did not see that.”

Outside the meeting, Walker told The Telegraph the petition pointed out how the charter school would differ from Peach County High, from a different class schedule to less focus on athletics, Walker said.

“We did a very good job of outlining how it would be different,” he said.

Walker added that parents should decide whether they want a charter school and, as far as finances are concerned, “it’s not their money. It’s taxpayer money,” he said.

The petition is for a charter high school in Byron, which is scheduled to open in fall 2014 if the petition receives state approval on time. Charter school members expect the state to vote on their petition in late October.

The charter plan includes a longer school year with extended breaks, longer school days for tutoring, seven class periods with mandatory study halls and other requirements.

The Byron City Council voted in March to transfer a city-owned elementary school to the charter group. Now, charter members are moving forward, reviewing plans for building renovations and garnering start-up finances, said Roy Lewis, a charter school board member.

McDaniel, the only Peach County school board member to vote in favor of the charter school petition, said he wanted to work alongside the charter school.

“One of my biggest fears is that if we don’t approve it and the state approves it, then we’ll be in direct competition with them,” McDaniel said. “I don’t think that would be a good thing for the county.”

Additionally, while he applauded the local school system, McDaniel said he believes students should have choices when it comes to their local education, he said.

“I feel like the charter group deserves a chance,” he said. “They’ve put in a lot of work.”

Board Member Virginia Dixon said that while she did not disapprove of charter schools in general, she could not approve of the petition because the school system and the charter school would be competing for limited public funds, “and we’re already hurting for those funds,” she said.

“And whether we admit it or not, there will be some competition,” she said.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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