Sweeping changes in Ivy Prep's new charter

ATLANTA -- During a state board of education meeting last week, officials granted a two-year charter to Ivy Prep Academy.

The decision came months after the Gwinnett County Board of Education rejected a charter extension for the all-girl school in Norcross, citing "significant deficiencies" in its application that involved issues with its budget, curriculum and vision.

The state's recent approval of Ivy Prep's application, however, was contingent upon sweeping changes to the charter school's education plan, including a reduction of classes offered, increased class sizes, a reduction or elimination of elective courses and a decrease in its operational budget.

According to a supplemental document provided on the Georgia Department of Education's website, the measures were suggested in order "to ensure that (Ivy Prep) could continue to operate on the state-chartered special school budget."

To get approval for the two-year state charter, Ivy Prep also was required to reduce its facilities lease costs, hire a full-time chief financial officer, submit a deficit reduction plan and establish a financial committee that will oversee monthly statements.

According to the document, in order for the school to operate with the state-chartered funding, it needs to "decrease staff costs to the lowest levels possible that allow it to sustain operations. Cutting the number of teachers, administrative staff and support staff would help to lower the operations budget."

State staff suggested the elimination of two administrative positions at the school.

Founder Nina Gilbert said the school is "involved in a very comprehensive strategic planning process."

"While I can't provide any specific details, we are being very deliberate and strategic in our planning," Gilbert said. "Our goal is to enhance the existing program, and we want to restore some of the classes and activities we had to eliminate due to budget restrictions when we were a Gwinnett-authorized school."

Ivy Prep started in 2008 as a state-chartered special school. The facility was later approved in 2009 by the Georgia Charter Schools Commission.

After the Georgia Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional that created the commission, Gwinnett County Public Schools granted Ivy Prep a one-year charter in 2011.

A spokesperson with Gwinnett County Public Schools said the board of education denied the school's application for a charter extension on Jan. 19 "because it did not meet state standards for charter applications."

Sloan Roach, executive director of communication, said the school board "has a responsibility that any charter approved by them must meet state requirements ... and be financially sound."

Roach said that at the time that Ivy Prep applied for an extension the school's provided budget "was based on income greater than the charter school law provided for start-up local charter schools."

According to supplemental documentation, the state's two-year charter "will allow the school to implement their new strategic plan, including a transition to self-management, and focus on becoming a highly-sustainable charter school."