The Cary Town Council on Thursday voted 4-2 to pass a resolution to verbally support the independent financing efforts of Triangle Math and Science Academy, a local charter school that opened in 2012.
The council’s resolution was a symbolic gesture that included no town money, but it divided the council nonetheless.
Some worried the resolution might create financial liabilities and prompt more outside entities to seek an endorsement from the council, while others saw the resolution as a chance to expand educational opportunities in a town with crowded schools.
Triangle Math and Science Academy, which currently offers grades K-8 to about 600 students at its facility on Gregson Drive, hopes to open a high school by mid-2017. They’re hoping to raise $12.5 million through the sale of bonds issued by the Public Finance Agency, a political subdivision of the State of Wisconsin.
Charter schools, which are publicly funded, are granted greater flexibility than traditional schools in how they teach students and operate school facilities. They operate independent of local school districts and don’t receive money for facilities.
Triangle Math and Science Academy, operated by local nonprofit Triad Math and Science Academy Company, sought the Cary Town Council’s blessing. A local governing body needs to express support for the school as a condition of the financing with the Public Finance Agency.
The academy chose to pursue financing through a bond sale because the school couldn’t get as much money through traditional funding mechanisms, said Jason Barron, a lawyer with Morningstar Law Group that represents the school.
Despite the fact that no money was transferred through the resolution, some council members said they worried about potential litigation costs if the school were to ever lose its charter and default on its bonds.
Councilman Ed Yerha read from a report prepared by staff that said Cary would be responsible for attorneys’ fees and educating residents about the town’s relationship with Triangle Math and Science if the town was ever sued.
“That gives me a concern,” said Yerha, who voted against the resolution.
The school and its parent company agreed to sign a contract protecting the town from any liabilities, but Mayor Pro Tem Jack Smith doubted the language is a fail-safe.
“The courts aren’t predictable,” he said. “They’re politicized.”
Councilman Don Frantz countered by saying Cary gets sued “all the time and spend(s) hundreds of thousands of dollars” on less-worthy causes.
While Smith ultimately voted for the resolution, councilwoman Lori Bush was the second council member to vote against it. She said she feared more schools and outside entities would come to the town for help. The council repeatedly has told residents concerned about crowded schools that it can’t help build new facilities, Bush said.
“I just think we’ve crossed the line,” she said. “I think it’s very disappointing that the (Wake County Board of Commissioners) didn’t take up this opportunity on their behalf.”
The charter school reached out to Wake Commissioners last fall with no success, said Barron, the academy representative. He suggested that commissioners likely didn’t want to take up the issue before the November election because charter schools are sometimes controversial.
Along with Smith and Frantz, Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson and Mayor Harold Weinbrecht voted to pass the resolution after hearing from several school administrators and parents during a public hearing.
Tina Hughes said her seventh-grade daughter couldn’t read when she was in the third grade, but after enrolling at Triangle Math and Science Academy, she had greatly improved her reading skills.
“I am very, very pleased,” Hughes said. “No matter what your background is, no matter what your difficulties are, (the school says) we expect you to be an achiever.”
About 30 parents sat in the audience with white signs that read “Yes to TMSA.”
“I feel very comfortable moving forward,” Robinson said. “I’m very impressed with this school.”