WCS rejects countys first charter school application
By Kerri Bartlett, Assistant Editor
After months of public debate, Williamson County Schools rejected its first charter school application May 9, Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney reported at the board work session Thursday night.
Because of its failure to meet minimum state requirements for charter schools, the application – received by the district in early April – fell flat even before the review process gained momentum.
Dr. Mike Looney
In a rejection letter to lifelong resident Freddie Haddox, the applicant, WCS Deputy Superintendent and General Counsel Jason Golden wrote, “This decision is based on the failure to meet the minimum statutory requirements of the Tennessee Public Charter Schools Act of 2002.”
The letter states that Haddox’s farm – named Mamushi Nature Farm Initiatives, Inc. in Franklin where some learning would have taken place at the agribusiness-based charter school – does not even exist as it was administratively dissolved by the state in 2003.
Also, Haddox failed to provide proof that the school, which would operate under the name Robert Baker Owen, was a nonprofit organization as reported in the application.
“The application is woefully incomplete and because of regulations, we are not considering it further,” Looney said at the work session.
"The Williamson County Schools District reviewed the application carefully and were fair in their assessment," Haddox reported to the Herald. "We just needed more time to build a firm foundation. They were straightforward in where the application fell short and helpful in making suggestions."
"When you start something like this, it has to be right. The Board is trying to do what's right for the children of Williamson County," he said.
Haddox plans to work on the shortcomings of his first attempt at opening the charter school and will try again in the future, possibly as early as the 2014-15 school year.
Initially, he reported that the school would open with 32 students for grades 7-12, but reduced the number to 16 after coming face to face with regulations such as providing a handicap accessible environment and providing services and accommodations for students with special needs – all of which raised costs of opening the school. Because Haddox’s farm does not meet handicap regulations, he said he planned to conduct classes in conference rooms at a hotel in Cool Springs.
Charter school applicant
“Over the last few months, we realized that the guidelines are more rigorous than expected,” Haddox told the Herald in April when the application was filed.
In initial reports, Haddox explained that the school would primarily focus on agriculture related to business and higher math with a target market for home school students and any students who preferred to learn in a smaller alternative environment opposed larger traditional high schools found in Williamson County.
With a Charter School Authorizer bill circulating on the state legislative floor this spring, which ultimately died, Looney became publicly vocal about the pitfalls of charter schools taking root in Williamson County.
“If more district money goes toward alternative educational entities, which leads to more overhead costs, the more the district’s funding will be diluted with less academic results in the process,” Looney said this spring.
A national study conducted by the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes, an independent research organization at Stanford University, shows only 17 percent of charter schools nationwide produce higher-achieving students than traditional schools within the same public system.
“That means that we could have an 83 percent chance of [charter schools] doing a worse job educating students through charter schools,” he said.
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Posted on: 5/17/2013