Lee charter school in Chapel Hill-Carrboro tells state it may seek delay

mschultz@newsobserver.comApril 2, 2013 

— A charter school approved for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district has officially told the state its may need another year before opening.

In a Friday letter to the state Office of Charter Schools, Doris Jackson, chairwoman of the Howard and Lillian Lee Scholars Charter School, said the board remains committed to the project.

“While it is possible that we may open this year, we are likely to request an additional planning year,” Jackson wrote.

The school, which had hoped to open in August in the Claremont subdivision off Homestead Road in Carrboro, lost its management company when National Heritage Academies pulled out last month.

The for profit Michigan-based company, which has 75 schools across the country, including six in North Carolina, has not publicly explained its decision.

In the letter, Jackson says the local board has asked NHA for more information. The company has offered to help the school select another management company, the letter says.

The Lee school is named for Howard Lee, the first black mayor of Chapel Hill, a former state senator and chairman of the State Board of Education, and his wife, educator Lillian Lee. Their daughter, Angela Lee, submitted the application to the state earlier this year. Efforts to reach the Lees for comment on the school’s delay have been unsuccessful.

The Lee school would target minority students and focus on closing the achievement gap and on college readiness. It would initially open as an elementary school then expand up to eighth grade, according to its charter application.

The school projected enrolling 480 K-5 students its first year, building up to 723 K-8 students by its fifth year.

According to Friday’s letter, 222 families “have indicated an interest” in the school,” and the board is working to update them on the school’s next steps.

The school has drawn opposition from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, which has estimated it would lose at least $4.6 million in per-pupil funding in the charter school’s first year. The local NAACP has also opposed the school, although a member of the school’s board, James Farrar, has been a chairman of the NAACP’s education committee.

But Stephanie Perry, a member of the Lee school’s board, has said she does not think that opposition was the reason for the NHA’s decision.

“I just think they really underestimated the process, how long it takes to develop and build something in our community,” Perry said recently.

Claremont developer Omar Zinn pulled the project from two planned town meetings last month. Jackson’s letter acknowledges the school “does not currently have land or a facility to open as planned in August 2013.”

If the Lee board does get another year to plan, it would be the second approved school this year getting a delay, said Joel Medley, the director of the Office of Charter Schools.

The Expedition School, a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math-focused school planned for the Orange County Schools district, asked for another planning year before gaining state approval last month, Medley said.

The state approved the Expedition School’s request on three conditions: that it not change its charter, that it obtain a certificate of occupancy for educational use by July 1, 2014, and that its additional planning year count as one year on the length of its charter, typically 10 years, Medley said.

Schultz: 919-932-2003

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