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Ivy Prep turns down GCPS OK

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

SUWANEE -- The Gwinnett County Board of Education approved a contract Thursday that would keep Ivy Preparatory Academy open for another year -- despite the objection of the school's founder.

During the school board's monthly meeting, Ivy Prep founder Nina Gilbert thanked district officials for considering her request and then "respectfully rescinded" it, because she felt the funding offered by the district was inadequate and would "significantly impact our ability to operate as a quality program."

Representatives from Gwinnett County Public Schools and Ivy Preparatory Academy had been in negotiations in recent weeks to figure out a way to keep the school open following a ruling from the Georgia Supreme Court. In a 4-3 decision, the high court found a law that created a state commission to approve and fund charter schools over the objection of local school boards was unconstitutional.

"I'm more than a little surprised and disappointed at Ms. Gilbert's request," school board chairman Robert McClure said. "I really thought both ends had been put together."

McClure recommended the board move forward with its plan to approve the contract but told Ivy Prep representatives they were free not to accept the agreement.

After the meeting, Gilbert said the district had offered to pay about $4,300 per student, but noted that the funding level was subject to change. She said the amount was more than the school received in its first year when it operated as a state-chartered special school, but significantly less than what it got after it was approved by the Georgia Charter Schools Commission.

In the school board's work session, Associate Superintendent Steve Flynt said only that the district would "provide reasonable financial support" to Ivy Prep.

"It's not definite enough to support our budget. ... I could not create a budget from that 'reasonable' amount," Gilbert said. "The school cannot be supported by an arbitrary 'reasonable' amount. I still have teachers to hire."

Gilbert said she plans to seek approval from the state Board of Education and keep the school open as a state-chartered special school, as it was in its inaugural year. Although the school will receive less funding, Gilbert said she'll know the dollar amount the school will receive.

Ivy Prep's board held an emergency meeting Thursday to approve Gilbert's decision, vice chair Christopher Cunney said.

"While we respect and appreciate all offers that have been made, it is our opinion at this point in time ... (that it's better to) look for other ways to fund the school," Cunney told the Gwinnett school board.

Gilbert said seeking approval from the state will also allow her to keep educating girls from throughout the metro Atlanta area. Gwinnett's funding would only apply to students who reside in the county -- about half the school's population.

After the all-girls Ivy Prep opened in 2008 with state approval, the school was free to accept students from throughout metro Atlanta. Gilbert said it's important to her to keep providing those girls with a quality education.

The school plans to add a ninth-grade class in the 2011-12 school year.