Charter school asks board to reconsider petition

LAWRENCEVILLE - A week after the Gwinnett County Board of Education voted to deny a charter school petition, the lead proponent of the proposed Ivy Preparatory Academy is asking for the board to reconsider its decision.

Nina Gilbert, the lead founder of the proposed all-girls charter school, submitted responses to the eight areas in the petition Gwinnett County Public Schools staff identified as deficient during the board's June 21 work session.

Board of Education Chairwoman Louise Radloff said her biggest concern was that the school's budget needs to be built around accurate data. If school founders know what type of students will be admitted to the school - and how much it would cost to educate students with special needs or those who are learning English as a second language - an accurate budget can be created, Radloff said.

The school's response, a copy of which was given to the Gwinnett Daily Post, included a revised budget based on a revenue of $6,000 per student, reduced from a projected revenue of $7,274 per pupil, and an initial enrollment of 120 sixth-graders, up from the projected first-year enrollment of 108.

Radloff said Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks and his staff will let the board know if the budget is based on accurate data, and the board will act accordingly.

With other concerns, the response states the petition is compliant with charter school law and that some policies have been patterned around those of local charter school petitions.

A charter school is publicly funded but granted specific exemptions from state and local regulations. The school is granted the freedom and flexibility to offer certain programs but is held to high performance-based standards through its charter, or contract, with the state.

Another concern raised by GCPS was that the petition may violate Title IX requirements, which generally prohibit sex-based discrimination in education programs. As part of the response, Gilbert included a legal opinion prepared by Rosemary Salomone, a professor of law at St. John's University, who found charter schools may seek exemption from the regulation.

"The spirit of the charter school allows the very flexibility we are seeking," Gilbert said in a telephone interview. "This is an opportunity we are eager to offer 100-plus girls in 2008, and we're doing everything we can to provide this opportunity."

Ivy Preparatory Academy is seeking permission to open in 2008 and would eventually serve sixth- through 12th-grades, said Gilbert, a former Gwinnett County teacher. One grade would be added each academic year, and Gilbert said the founding board would like to offer the program to girls in the Meadowcreek cluster, where drop-out rates are higher.

Gwinnett County Associate Superintendent Cindy Loe received the response late Wednesday afternoon and "immediately" sent it out for review by school district staff, said Sloan Roach, GCPS spokeswoman.

Roach said she did not know how long the staff's review would take or if the petition would be included in the board's July agenda.