The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


September 17, 2012

Meeting Tuesday may decide fate of New Berlin charter school

MIFFLINBURG —  Tuesday night will mark the second time around for the New Berlin Charter School coalition.

That’s when members will again present their case for a brick-and-mortar school in the borough.

And once again, the path to the Valley’s first charter school goes through Mifflinburg, which in February rejected the first charter school application presented to it at a public hearing in December 2011.

But this time, Lewisburg and Selinsgrove are along the route as the charter school coalition has broadened its plans to include those two districts.

As such, the charter school board had to apply to them, too; Pennsylvania school code allows the three school districts to conduct one hearing, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Mifflinburg Area High School’s auditorium.

Three school districts equals three school boards plus teachers and administrators from each, not to forget parents and others with an interest, and the charter school board members as well.

It’s going to be a lot of people — and a lot of questions.

“I still have a portion of the application to read,” said Kathy Swope, Lewisburg school board president, of the 2-inch-thick charter school plan. “But I’m making notes and questions as I go along.”

Most Lewisburg school board members plan to attend the meeting.

Swope said she sees the public hearing “as a wonderful opportunity for us to better understand what the proposal is they’re putting forth. My particular areas of interest center around ensuring student achievement,” she said. “I’ll be looking very much at that.”

Education quality was one reason Mifflinburg cited when the school board rejected the charter school proposal. Superintendent Dan Lichtel said simply having a school in New Berlin, rather than better education or saving money, appeared to be the main goal of the charter school there.

Lewisburg Superintendent Mark DiRocco said he’s reviewed the application, and “mostly I want to hear the presentation and want to see how they’re going to meet all the state requirements for charter schools, to make sure they have all the resources and procedures necessary to run that school. That’s really what I’m looking for.”

DiRocco, Lichtel and Selinsgrove Superintendent Chad Cohrs will be at the meeting in advisory roles; it’s up to the school boards to decide to grant the charter.

New Berlin Charter School would begin as a K-4 school in its first year with enrollment at about 100 students, then expand to K-5 the second year.

It would use an “integrated curriculum,” said Vince Stoops, the coalition leader, which means some subjects would be taught together such as an activity that involves art and math together, or science and history.

“The themes of sustainability and environmental awareness are integral to the school’s mission,” Stoops said, “with educational field trips and outdoor activities a regular part of the instruction in every grade.”

Because the charter school would be run by community members, it wouldn’t seek to make a profit, Stoops said.

Funding would “follow each student” from their respective school districts to the charter school.

In Lewisburg’s case, that means nearly $11,000 per student, and from Mifflinburg it’s about $8,600 per student.

The proposed first year budget is about $1 million.

Under law, a school district cannot cite budget reasons for rejecting a charter school application.

Lichtel acknowledged this during the February decision, but said he wanted the school board to consider finances, given the school district’s budget issues.

“Whenever you look at something as complex as putting an entire school together, there are, no doubt, lots of things to be considered,” Swope said. “This is a great opportunity for us to talk with the folks proposing this and get a better understanding of it.”

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