The board approved the academy, along with nine other charter schools, as a state-chartered special school in a 10-0 vote during a special called meeting yesterday.
The meeting was conducted via conference call, with three of the 13-member board absent.
“We are thrilled that they decided to help us out,” said Lyn Carden, a member of the Georgia Charter Education Foundation board, a nonprofit entity formed to oversee Cherokee Charter Academy.
The approval puts the school back on tap to open for its inaugural class in August and came just days after the Cherokee County Board of Education voted to deny the school’s charter petition.
The state-chartered special school designation comes at a price.
The state-granted charter only allows the school to collect state and federal education funds and not revenue from local property tax collection.
Cherokee Charter was counting on more than $2.9 million of local revenue to help meet its $7.2 million budget, according to the school’s proposed budget presented in the resubmitted charter petition to the Cherokee Board of Education.
The Georgia Charter Educational Foundation acknowledges that presents a dilemma.
“This approval, while an extremely positive vote of confidence, does not come with equal or even adequate funding to operate high performing charter schools,” the group said in a statement issued after yesterday’s state Board of Education vote. “We are currently working with other stakeholders in identifying sources for additional funding to assure we can provide the high quality education system we’ve promised.”
In its charter petition to the state, Cherokee Charter proposes a $7.5 million budget for its inaugural year with $2.9 million in “fundraising” revenue.
Carden said she was confident the school could make up the funding gap.
She said the school will explore grants and additional state funding.
“We will come at this from several different directions,” Carden said. “But it’s a lot of money and we are going to need some help. (State school) superintendent (John) Barge and Gov. (Nathan) Deal said they would do whatever it takes and we hope they will.”
Cherokee Charter’s future came into question in May after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled the 2008 law that allowed for the school’s charter unconstitutional.
The law, which created the Georgia Charter School Commission, sparked fierce debate over who held the power to charter schools.
Cherokee Charter Academy was approved by the commission in late 2010.
The debate turned into a lawsuit by several school districts across the state that argued only local school boards have the authority to charter schools.
Several metropolitan Atlanta school systems — including the city of Atlanta and the DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett County school systems — joined the suit. Cherokee County did not enter the legal proceedings.
The decision put the future of 16 schools, including some that have been operating for a year or more, into limbo.
Those schools were forced to seek the approval of local boards or the state school board to become state-chartered special schools.
A long-term solution is a constitutional amendment allowing the state to charter schools — an option some state lawmakers are exploring.
Cherokee Charter Academy resubmitted its charter petition to the Cherokee County Board of Education in May.
However, Cherokee School System Superintendent Frank Petruzielo said the revised petition contained the same “deficiencies” that led to the school’s denial twice last year.
Concerns raised by the superintendent included a lack accountability in the school’s governing body and oversight powers of the school board, a lack of planning for special education students and the school’s management agreement with for-profit Florida-based Charter Schools USA.
Petruzielo also argued that the charter school would deal a blow to the school system weakening finances.
On top of reductions in state education funding and shrinking property tax revenue, he said the new school would drain about $7 million from the school system’s coffers.
After fierce debate between the school’s supporters and those opposed during a June 24 special called meeting, the Cherokee County school board denied Cherokee Charter Academy in a narrow 4-3 vote.
The decision marked the third time The Cherokee Board of Education denied the school in two years.
Post 2 Cherokee school board member Mike Chapman said the charter school offered nothing new or original to Cherokee County students.
Chapman, who is out of town on business, said it appeared the state just “rubber stamped” the school when told of the state school board’s action.
Other board members, such as post 3 member Michael Geist, who voted in favor of the academy, said the new school would be a boon to Cherokee’s already high performing schools.
He echoed that sentiment after yesterday’s state board vote.
“A high performing school system can benefit from the educational diversity a school like this will bring,” he said.
Geist called the state’s approval of Cherokee Charter Academy a “potential compromise,” referencing Petruzielo’s suggested revisions to the school’s charter petition.
Petruzielo released his required revisions to Cherokee Charter’s charter petition earlier this month.
The required revisions included dropping the school proposed enrollment to 500 students from 995. The drop would decrease the school’s budget from about $7 million to about $3.4 million, thus reducing the school’s impact on the school system’s budget.
With the state-chartered special school designation the Cherokee Charter Academy, with a student body of 995, will receive about $3.7 million from the state.
The Cherokee Board of Education took no action on Petruzielo’s revised petition.
Geist has two children accepted to Cherokee Charter.
He said he would be reviewing the school’s operations plan before deciding if his children will attend.
Losing students to a new school, however, still means losing vital funding.
In a letter to school board members after Cherokee Charter’s state approval, Petruzielo said an exact budgetary impact could not be calculated.
“(Cherokee Charter Academy) has yet to provide (the school system) with a complete enrollment list for the school, so at this point we can only estimate the budgetary impact,” Petruzielo said in the letter. “If all 995 students are current (Cherokee County School District) students, or kindergarteners previously expected to enroll, the state funding decrease could be as much as $3.7 million.”
The school system is set to approve its budget next month.
Options for covering the charter school’s impact to the school system’s budget could include furloughs, layoff and reducing the school system’s budget reserves or a millage rate increase.
“The school board will still have a difficult decision to make regarding how to bridge the gap in state funding at the July 27 meeting,” Petruzielo said in the letter.
Carden said Cherokee Charter Academy will be ready to open its doors for its inaugural class on Aug. 1.
The school is housed in the former American Heritage Academy facility on Sixes-Road in Canton.
Parents with children slated to attend the school, such as Adrienne Slade, say they are confident the school will be up and running by the next school year.
“I am so excited,” said Slade, whose son is a rising kindergartener. “It’s been such an up-and-down ride and now we are back on top. We’ve come this close and we are not going to drop the ball now.”