Critics blast charter school proposal
19 Apr 2022 — Journal Gazette
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Ashley Sloboda | The Journal Gazette A public hearing on a proposed Fort Wayne charter school drew dozens of opponents Monday. About 50 people stood in the hall because seat was limited in the Allen County Public Library's Globe Room.
Ashley Sloboda

A proposed Fort Wayne charter school faced overwhelming opposition during a public hearing Monday that filled an Allen County Public Library room to capacity, prompting about 50 people to gather in the grand hall.

About 25 people : including Fort Wayne Community Schools board members and FWCS Superintendent Mark Daniel : urged the Indiana Charter School Board to deny Fort Wayne Preparatory Academy's application next week.

The proposed charter school wants to open in the 2023-24 academic year with 150 elementary students. Leaders plan to expand to the middle school grade levels : eventually serving 400 students, according to a 268-page application.

Speakers pointed to inconsistencies in the academy's application and how two of its three board members live in Southwest Allen County Schools. They questioned its proposed budget and criticized the track record of its education service provider, Accel Schools.

Kathleen Lewis, a FWCS teacher, delivered a particularly passionate speech about an hour into the 90-minute hearing.

"This community should be outraged," Lewis said. "It doesn't take much : a little research. Look at what everybody came up with to figure out that this is the most ridiculous thing."

The academy expects to draw students from FWCS and plans to open in "the southwestern area of Fort Wayne" within FWCS, its application said. But it identifies "one current target" location on the city's southeast side : the former Zion Lutheran Academy building at 2313 S. Hanna St.

"I think by evidence of the crowd that it is clear what we're trying to provide through Fort Wayne Community Schools is a sound educational program, one that presents many choices... and many opportunities for our students," Daniel said.

A new charter school would strain already limited resources : and not just state and federal funding, Daniel added.

"We have teacher shortages," he said. "Where are these teachers going to come from?"

Speakers questioned the academy's staffing and financial plans, including one person who said $70,000 isn't enough to attract a quality principal. FWCS teacher Eileen Doherty said documents lack allocations for multiple vital positions, including a school nurse, a school counselor or a therapist.

"Our kids need school counselors," Doherty said. "That is a definite."

Jessica Farlow said her children are the types of children sought by the proposed school. She then listed the services her family has received from FWCS in the last decade, including transportation, free musical instrument and instruction, special education identification, high-ability identification, social-emotional learning support, college visits, one-to-one technology for home and school, after-school activities and quality teachers.

"Will this school be providing these same high-quality services and support? And if so, why are they not demonstrated in your plan or your budget?" Farlow asked. "If you cannot plan for, budget for or allocate for those types of opportunities, how do you propose to have a higher quality educational experience for my children? You can't."

Derek Bethay, an EACS teacher, said as a taxpayer he opposes all programs that funnel tax dollars to private and charter schools away from public schools.

"If you are looking for an alternative model to traditional public schools," Bethay said, "come see us, OK, because we are killing it in a good way."

Julie Hollingsworth, a FWCS board member and retired FWCS teacher, said she is concerned that the proposed school and Accel would follow a cash grab model like other Fort Wayne charter schools.

"With no nurse, no counselor, no case manager, no transportation, no librarian, this is a bare bones money making operation disguised as a school," Hollingsworth said.

Only one advocate of the proposed school spoke, Kevin Fitzharris. And he just wanted to clarify that his letter of support included in the application was his personal endorsement, not that of his law firm Barrett McNagny, whose letterhead he used.

Nobody representing the proposed school spoke, nor was an overview of the application presented.

The Indiana Charter School Board is expected to act on the application during a meeting at 9 a.m. April 28 in Indianapolis. The meeting will be livestreamed on the board's YouTube channel.

This story is provided free courtesy of The Fort Wayne Newspapers.
"Critics blast charter school proposal" Journal Gazette 19 Apr 2022: A1