Chapel Hill charter school loses request to delay opening

khui@newsobserver.comAugust 8, 2013 

— An obstacle-plagued Chapel Hill-area charter school will have to start from scratch after the state Board of Education rejected Thursday its request to delay opening for another year.

Leaders of the Howard and Lillian Lee Scholars Charter School had asked for permission to wait until 2014 to open to give them more time to find a location and a company to manage the school’s operations. But Thursday’s rejection means the school’s current charter is no longer considered viable, so it will have to reapply for a new charter to open in a subsequent year.

State board members unanimously sided with state charter-school staff who said it would be a bad precedent to grant a second year’s delay for the school.

“The board endeavors to be consistent,” said State Schools Superintendent June Atkinson. “If the board had approved the request, they would have had to change policy.”

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 in March.

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

“As disappointed as we are in NHA and its decision to withdraw, we do not want to throw away our hard work and the opportunity to bring this new school to our community,” said Doris Jackson, chairwoman of the charter school, in a June letter asking for the delay.

The 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.

The 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 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.

The school originally received permission to open in 2012 but couldn’t move forward because it didn’t have a location.

The school received a second charter to open this year.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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