Charter schools to keep teaching

Posted: Wednesday, October 25, 2006

With some reservations regarding expansion plans of Homer’s Fireweed Academy, the peninsula school board on Monday approved the reapplication of three Kenai Peninsula charter schools.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education voted unanimously to approve Fireweed, Aurora Borealis and Soldotna Montessori charter schools for another five years.

Fireweed, which already had approval to offer grades three through eight, but chose to offer only three through six until now, is seeking to expand to kindergarten through 12th-grade, placing seventh- through 12th-grade pupils in Homer Middle School.

Assistant Schools Superintendent Glen Szymoniak told the board, “It is significant to point out that Fireweed is requesting to expand from 62 students to 154 students in 2008.

“Fireweed and West Homer Elementary (where Fireweed currently has classes) were involved, but Homer Middle School was not included yet,” Szymoniak said.

“Fireweed and West Homer are an example of how neighborhood schools and charter schools should work together,” he said, adding that Kiki Abrahamson, Fireweed’s lead teacher, and Charlie Walsworth, West Homer principal, negotiated a working relationship that benefits both schools.

The board approved the contract allowing the three charter schools to continue operating for five years, and approved an addendum to Fireweed’s contract stipulating that “Fireweed Academy will not exceed 90 students at West Homer Elementary School.”

Szymoniak explained that the state requires the contract renewals every five years, but the addendum could be amended every year.

The addendum also stipulates that Fireweed will pay the school district $50,100 for pro-rated operational expenses, including utilities, shared staff and shared supplies.

The expenses are broken down as $12,700 for nursing, $13,000 for custodial and $25,400 for building costs.

At his recommendation, the board deferred a decision on expansion to 12th grade and taking classroom space at Homer Middle School until the board’s next meeting, slated for Nov. 20.

“I can’t tell you how much we appreciate the board’s support of parents right to choose,” Abrahamson said. “The school board is honoring the diversity of (students’) minds.”

Identifying herself as the head custodian of Soldotna Elementary School, Patty Rich said, “I have a question about the funding of charter schools.”

Rich said the $50,000 does not pay the full cost of services charter schools receive.

“All costs need to be broken out and charged to the charter schools,” she said.

School board member Liz Downing said she would be meeting next week with Homer Middle School and members of the community and would come back to the board in November with recommendations.

Upon receiving unanimous approval of the Aurora Borealis application, Academic Committee Chair Larry Semmens said, “I’m very thankful of the district’s view of charter schools and thankful of the district’s recommendation.”

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.



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