The Herald Bulletin

January 15, 2013

Ball State charter review worries some schools

The Associated Press

MUNSTER, Ind. — Ball State University’s review of half of the charter schools it sponsors across Indiana has sparked concern that some schools might lose their charters.

The university’s Office of Charter School is reviewing the charters of 20 of the 41 schools its sponsors as part of evaluations of the schools’ academic performance, governance and finances.

“Decisions will be made very shortly” on the schools’ futures, Office Executive Director Bob Marra said.

The schools face three general options: Not having their charter renewed, being granted contract extensions that generally run for three years, or a five-year renewal that could be shortened or revoked. Marra said that low-performing schools should not be renewed.

“Obviously, the primary purpose of the school is academic so the emphasis is on academics,” he said. “But you can have stellar academic performance but still have financial or governance issues and still be closed.”

Charter schools are alternative public schools that have had more curriculum freedom than traditional schools, but state law was changed last year to hold charters to the same academic standards as public schools.

Lawmakers also approved allowing a second office, the Indiana Charter School Board, to authorize charter schools in the state.

The Indianapolis Star reported last month that a charter school sponsor trade group, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, said in a recent report that Ball State hasn’t done an adequate job of overseeing the charter schools it sponsors.

Although Ball State officials have until March 1 to announce the fate of the 20 charter schools being reviewed, Marra said the decision will be made soon to give students and parents time to make other arrangements if a school’s charter is not renewed.

Danielle Sleight, the school board president of Charter School of the Dunes in Gary, acknowledged that the school’s students are struggling academically and that the school has had several principals in the decade since it opened.

“We understand our letter grade is an F,” Sleight said. “We understand that looks terrible. Fortunately for us, the decision will not be solely based on just the letter grade.”

Sleight said that last year, the school made overall gains in its ISTEP scores. The Gary school has 460 students in kindergarten through 10th grade and intends to expand to 11th grade next fall and the senior level after that.

Sleight said that a new $13 million school building now under construction is scheduled to be completed in July. She said the school is operating in the black and doesn’t know what she will do if Ball State does not extend the charter.

Michael Suggs, the president of the board of another charter school in Gary, LEAD College Prep, said he’s optimistic the charter will be renewed. The school has about 400 students in fifth through 12th grade.

Suggs said LEAD College Prep is in its second year under its current management. The school is in its 10th year of operation.

“I expect they will look at the academic performance at the school as well as the alternatives for our students if LEAD College Prep didn’t exist,” he told The Times of Munster. “We provide a safe environment for our children, and we are doing everything we can to remove barriers to a quality education.”