Teachers at Fireweed Academy in Homer want to expand their school into a bigger building something with running water and more space than the two portables it occupies today.
The most attractive option they have considered is West Homer Elementary but they are meeting strong opposition.
A Kenai Peninsula Borough School Board work session April 18 included an extended conversation about Fireweed Academy Charter School and West Homer Elementary.
Fireweed Academy lead teacher Kiki Abrahamson said the school needs more room as it experiences more interest and growth. It is currently housed in two modular units outside Paul Banks Elementary and is at its capacity with 34 students.
"West Homer is at 52 percent capacity and they have six unassigned rooms ... . It's a public facility, so why can't regular public education students use the public building? It belongs to everybody. Those teachers and parents didn't pay to build it," she said. "I'm confused by the animosity from West Homer teachers and parents."
Abrahamson said the charter school's education goals would be the same, to provide opportunities to meet state and federal standards to the children of Homer, "now that we're living in standards-based world."
She also said Fireweed would start off as a self-contained school within a school.
According to the Homer News, West Homer Principal Charlie Walsworth said if the charter school moved into West Homer, it would compromise some of the programs the school offers kids.
"Generally, the thought of another program in the building that we feel is already being well utilized wasn't all that accepted," Walsworth said of his staff and faculty's response to the idea.
What looks like available space, Walsworth said, actually is used to accommodate various academic activities and several resource programs at the school, including Title 1, a community mental health skills-training program, Project GRAD offices, special education programs that draw students from the entire southern Kenai Peninsula and a new program for emotionally handicapped students with intensive behavioral needs.
West Homer Elementary has the same building plan as Nikiski North Star Elementary, which has a maximum capacity of 500 students. West Homer currently has 259 students.
"West Homer is certainly using all their space for different programs, but some of the offices could be moved," said Sammy Crawford, school board president.
Crawford said the board has looked at the school and found there is enough room in West Homer Elementary. The board has heard evenly divided public testimony on the issue.
"We want to do what's best for the kids, but to jam this down their throat wouldn't be right, either," Crawford said.
The charter school's contract is up in June 2006. It has no legal means to push an expansion or change in contract. Crawford said if the board is convinced, a change in contract could result, or it also could wait until next year to be negotiated.
"Like (Dr. Nels Anderson, school board member) said, 'This is not a student problem, it's an adult problem,'" Crawford said. "We've always said, if there is enough space, then a school should take on a charter school. But it wouldn't be good to do this going into a hostile environment. It's not healthy."
The school board is considering five options for next school year. The board is not constrained by this list and may choose another solution in its meeting Monday:
Move Fireweed Academy to West Homer and move one portable to West Homer from the Paul Banks site at a cost of $40,000, which would be repaid to the district over a four year period;
Move the charter school to West Homer and house the program in three adjacent rooms;
Use a third portable at Paul Banks Elementary to house Fireweed's expansion;
House Fireweed Academy at McNeil Canyon Elementary School; and
Make no changes.
McNeil Canyon Elementary School Principal Peter Swanson said it would be possible to move Fireweed Academy to McNeil Canyon Elementary, pending discussions regarding the specifics.
"It would take conversations about how it would work and not be dumped on somebody's lap," Swanson said. "This was a surprise to me and it's odd to me that idea wasn't pursued in the beginning. I'd have been looking for space four or five years ago."
Assistant Superintendent Guy Fisher said only be made by the school board not the school district administration. Charter schools must still meet state accreditation requirements and their funds are monitored by the school district.
"(Charter school) contracts are unique in that they are between the school and the board. We really have no say and cannot interfere," Fisher said. "We have charter schools in the district and they want to grow. To us, the kids are all in the school district and they all deserve an education."
The school board will meet at 7 p.m. Monday at Seward High School, 2100 Swetmann.
Homer News reporter McKibben Jackinsky contributed to this story.
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