Potomac News Online | Officials reject plan for charter school

Prince William County school officials have recommended to the School Board that the county’s first charter school application be denied.

The Prince William Linguistics Academy would have been the ninth charter school in Virginia.

Unresolved legal issues, limited experience with non-English speakers and millions of dollars in startup costs are the reasons public school staff recommended denial, according to a document obtained by Potomac News on Tuesday.

The document is to be presented to the School Board by staff at a meeting tonight.

“They are all new issues and we are hoping it’s all workable. We’ll just keep focusing,” said Samia Harris, director of the proposed Prince William Linguistics Academy.

The academy would teach students who speak English and those who speak little English. The curriculum is designed after that of the Prince William Academy, a private school near Manassas.

Non-English-speaking students would learn the language through an immersion program, and those who speak English could learn Spanish, French or Arabic, said Harris.

But the proposed charter school has not yet provided public school officials with an adequate charter agreement, according to the document dated Oct. 22.

That document is signed by associate superintendents Kris Pedersen, David Miller, Robert Ferrebee, Pamela Gauch and superintendent Edward L. Kelly.

Other unresolved legal issues concerning the Third Party Rule, the Conflict of Interest Act and the Virginia Public Procurement Act are other reasons staff cited for the denial recommendation.

“We believe all issues have been resolved,” said Harris. “According to our understanding from the attorney general, that is all legal.”

The public school document also states that “the applicant has very limited experience in providing instructional services and programs for limited English speaking and economically disadvantaged students.”

Harris, who has taught English as a second language in Egypt, Nigeria, Yemen and Toronto, took issue with that statement.

“I have 22 years of experience in education and 17 years in managing a very successful model school (at the Prince William Academy). If that’s not sufficient, I don’t know what is,” Harris said.

The public school staff report also states that “the applicant needed to show previous academic success with at-risk students or a strong research-based curriculum that has proven successful with these students.”

Financial impacts on the public school district is the final reason for recommending denial of Prince William Linguistic Academy’s application.

The charter school, which would teach kindergarten through sixth grade, could create unanticipated expenditures that could total $1.5 million to $2 million, according to the staff report.

Startup costs, new buses and “costs of providing services for students new to the school system” are financial reasons for staff’s thumbs-down.

But Harris said none of those charges apply to this application.

She said the cost per student in the Prince William Linguistics Academy would in fact be less than it costs the county per student per year because the public schools would not have to float a bond to pay for a new school.

“I don’t know where they are coming up with these figures,” said Harris.

She said she was told by a school transportation official that the public school system can accommodate the 500 students at the proposed school and wouldn’t have to buy new buses.

Harris said Harris Enterprises and Associates is currently building the school at 3480 Commission Court in the Hedges Run Business Park in Lake Ridge.

“I would really like to see this thing work,” Harris, who submitted the academy’s charter school application two years ago. “There will be a school there, whether it’s a public school or private.”

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