RALEIGH — The State Board of Education withdrew is approval of a new charter school proposed for Charlotte on concerns that it copied another school’s application, and upon hearing that one of the school’s board members had his law license revoked for stealing from clients.
The state board went on to give final approval to 24 new charters, with 23 of those scheduled to open for the fall semester. New charters approved Thursday include the Longleaf School of the Arts in Wake, The Institute for the Development of Young Leaders in Durham, the Howard and Lillian Lee Scholars Academy in Chapel Hill and The Expedition School in Orange County.
The legislature broke the seal on charters in 2011, changing the law to allow for more than 100 in the state. The state now has about 50,000 students across 107 charters.
Charters are public schools that operate free of many regulations that traditional public schools must follow.
The board, on the recommendation of the Public Charter School Advisory Council, gave 25 charters, including Cameron Creek in Charlotte, preliminary approval in September. Cameron Creek was dropped from the approval list after the advisory council saw extensive similarities between the Cameron Creek application and that of another charter. The advisory committee withdrew its support for Cameron Creek, and the state board followed suit.
The board saw “compelling evidence” from the state charter school office that the Cameron Creek application was copied, Vice Chairman Wayne McDevitt said. A highlighted version of the application shows page after page identical to an application submitted by Charlotte Learning Academy. The Cameron Creek application contains nine references to Charlotte Learning Academy in places where Cameron Creek’s name should go.
Sylvia Cole, chairwoman of the Cameron Creek board of directors, did not return a phone call Thursday, but in a letter dated Feb. 2, she denied that the application was a cut-and-paste job.
After the discovery of unauthorized copying, the state board found out that one of Cameron Creek’s board members, Melvin T. Sharpe of Pennsylvania, lost his law license for taking clients’ money.
Sharpe appeared at an advisory council meeting last month to help defend the charter application and wrote a letter supporting an appeal of the advisory council’s disapproval. He did not identify himself as a lawyer in the letter, but his résumé submitted with the charter application says he is an attorney, managing and operating the Law Offices of Melvin T. Sharpe Jr., and representing corporate and individual clients.
McDevitt said board members were concerned that they were being misled about Sharpe’s credentials.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court disbarred Sharpe in September. The court’s disciplinary board recommended disbarment in 2011 after finding that Sharpe deceived clients and took their money.
Sharpe said in an interview that he did not misrepresent himself. He suggested that the application with his résumé may have been submitted before Pennsylvania took his law license.
“Folks use whatever they want to try to achieve whatever they want to achieve,” he said. “There was no misrepresentation at all at any time.”