Charter school approved in Bibb

The Bibb County school board approved the county’s first charter school Thursday.

The Macon Academy of Excellence is scheduled to open its doors to up to 450 students in August 2011, if the state board also approves the charter this spring.

The school, which will offer kindergarten through eighth grade, will be located at the Progressive Christian Academy campus in Macon’s Pleasant Hill neighborhood.

The board voted 4-2. Board members Gary Bechtel, Tom Hudson, Albert Abrams and Tommy Barnes voted in favor of the charter school, while Ella Carter and Susan Sipe opposed.

“The powers that be kept saying ‘You’re wasting your time. They’ll never approve it,’ ” said L. Vernon Allwood, who will manage the school through EdFutures Inc. “I think the timing was right. The school system is struggling, let’s face it.”

The last petitions for charter schools in Bibb County, in 2004 and 2005, were rejected. Traditionally, school boards across the state are reluctant to approve them, although they are gaining traction, the Georgia Charter Schools Association has said.

Carter opposed the move because the charter would not provide transportation, and Sipe said she didn’t think its program was innovative. Meanwhile, Bibb County school board President Gary Bechtel said a school system committee had combed through the 75-page charter petition and recommended board approval.

Plus, he said a majority of board members recognized that the public wants to try something new.

“The community is asking for more alternative educational opportunities, and this met that need,” Bechtel said.

Macon Mayor Robert Reichert and City Council President Miriam Paris had written letters of support for the charter and submitted them to the school board.

Macon Academy of Excellence proposes to enroll students systemwide on a first-come, first-served basis.

It will operate on a 7.5-hour school day, teach students Spanish daily and use a widely known curriculum used in 15 countries.

Charter schools are public schools that are granted more flexibility, but they operate according to a contract approved by a local school board.

In this particular charter, approved on a five-year contract, Macon Academy of Excellence will have to ensure that students perform academically, and the school will have to keep tight control over its own finances.

The state will pay the charter about $7,000 per student enrolled instead of that money going to Bibb County public schools.

Founding members of the charter school include Charles and Monya Rutland, attorney Veronica Brinson, Trent Solomon and Clarence Thomas.

Allwood, a former New York City teacher who worked most recently as the Morehouse School of Medicine’s special projects director, and his wife, Rosemary, a former Spelman College dean of students, will be paid to manage the charter school’s payroll and maintenance.

There are 122 charter schools in the state, mostly in the metro Atlanta area. The charter group must now submit its petition to the state by Aug. 1. If approved, the charter would establish a governing board, plans to hire a principal in March and about 20 certified teachers.

“This is a historic moment in Bibb County,” a teary-eyed Monya Rutland said, as a group left the school board meeting to celebrate the victory.

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.