Raleigh charter school for those with intellectual, developmental disabilities seeks funds

sbarr@newsobserver.comJuly 3, 2014 

— A new charter school in Raleigh for middle- and high-school students with intellectual and developmental disabilities is in the midst of a major fundraising push to ensure it can open in August.

Dynamic Community is a rare charter school in its plan to serve a population of students who need a variety of special services, a status that raises logistical and financial difficulties that other schools are less likely to encounter.

To help cover costs in the coming school year, the school needs to raise about $160,000, a figure officials have been chipping away at with fundraisers such as bake sales. They’ve also launched a fundraising campaign to raise $100,000 by July 30, with the school’s board kicking in $20,000 to jump-start the effort.

School leaders are optimistic that the community will rally to support them and the students they plan to educate. While families and others connected to the school have made what contributions they can, their support alone can’t cover the budget gap, said Diane Morris, president of the school’s board.

“Community support is everything. Part of our challenge has always been that this population of families is already a highly stressed population” because of the costs of therapies and other services, she said.

Charter schools are funded by taxpayer dollars that can be supplemented by private fundraising. They are exempt from some of the regulations that traditional public schools must follow, and are independent from local school districts.

Dynamic makes state list

Last month, the state released a report that said Dynamic was among eight charter schools that had made “slight progress” toward opening this fall, based on a self-reported evaluation. State officials had concerns about the school’s reliance on fundraising and its need to find a building after its initial rental plans fell through.

Since the reports were prepared, the school has found a building at 5510 Munford Road, off Glenwood Avenue near Millbrook Road.

State officials also have made a visit to the school and asked that Dynamic’s leaders provide evidence of their progress toward opening by Aug. 1.

“We are working diligently,” Morris said. “The whole building thing put us behind.” Officials have hired a principal and now are in the process of hiring teachers.

Thomas Miller, an education consultant with the Office of Charter Schools, said there’s no final date by which the school has to come up with the money, but that the budget has been an area of concern for officials.

“When you’re relying on fundraising, it's difficult to keep a sustained balanced budget,” Miller said.

He said the goal of the initial readiness report was to give schools a planning tool to ensure a smooth opening.

“It's up to them as a board to carry out their mission and meet their promises to the community,” he said.

‘Reach their potential’

Morris, the mother of two teenage sons with autism, said that children with intellectual or developmental disabilities are too rarely encouraged to excel, especially once they reach middle school.

“We really want a situation where the kids could be pushed to be confident and experienced and reach their potential,” she said.

Dynamic’s parents and staff aim to fulfill that mission through small classes and project-based learning. The school will have 80 students in sixth- through 10th-grade when it opens, and plans to add a grade each school year. At a maximum, Dynamic expects to serve 130 students, including those with special needs who are eligible to stay in school until age 22.

One difficulty for the school has been the schedule for awarding “exceptional child” funding for students with special needs. The funding comes on top of county and state allotments, but doesn’t kick in unless a child was enrolled in a public or charter school in the spring before the school year in question.

Morris said the school anticipated a handful of students would come from private or home-schools and be ineligible for the funding the first year. Instead, more than 20 are expected.

Dynamic also is awaiting its federal nonprofit status that would allow foundations to make grants or donations to the school.

“It's just a challenge for the first year,” Morris said. She’s hopeful that the passion that propelled the creation of the school will help it clear these initial hurdles.

Maria D’Amelio, whose son will start seventh grade this fall, said she was drawn to Dynamic’s mission. She’s excited by the promise of consistency and support from a community that understands her family.

“I feel like I'm taking a leap of faith, but I trust in everyone on the board,” she said.

Staff writer T. Keung Hui contributed to this report.

Barr: 919-836-4952; Twitter: @barrmsarah

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