Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Charter application: Is it cheating?

Updated March 7 with N.C. Board of Education's rejection of Cameron Creek's charter.

As charter schools take on a growing role in North Carolina's public education picture, the dispute over Cameron Creek Charter School's application illustrates some of the challenges of sorting through who gets permission to open the alternative public schools.

Founder Sylvia Cole was among 25 operators who got preliminary approval from the state Board of Education to open a new school in August 2013.  But in late January, another Charlotte charter applicant,  Stacey Rose,  contacted the state Office of Charter Schools to say that large portions of Cole's application appeared to be copied and pasted from an application Rose had filed in 2012.  Joel Medley, director of the state office,  reviewed the applications,  agreed and asked Cole to explain.  Read Rose's complaint and the letter from Medley to Cole here.

Cole responded with a four-page letter denying the application was copied.  Instead, she said, it drew from various public documents, including "a number of applications" that are posted online. Read her response here.

Cole appeared at the Feb. 11 meeting of the Charter School Advisory Council to field questions about the similarities between the two applications. At the conclusion,  that council voted unanimously to withdraw its support for the Cameron Creek charter and recommend that the state Board of Education not approve that charter at its March meeting. Read the draft minutes of that session here (beginning on page 4) and the notice of that decision sent to Cole here.

Cole and Cameron Creek board member Melvin Sharpe filed a lengthy appeal to the state Board of Education on Feb. 16 (read it here).  Among the issues they raise is that advisory board member Cheryl Turner, director of Sugar Creek Charter School in east Charlotte, had a conflict of interest because her school competes for students with Cameron Creek, which will also be located in that area.  Turner said in an interview Tuesday the she does not view Cameron Creek as competition and initially voted to grant the charter.  She changed her mind last week after seeing how close the two applications are and hearing Cole's defense.  At that point,  Turner said,  "I did not see that they are ready to open a school."

On March 7, the state Board of Education voted not to issue a charter to Cameron Creek. Read the background material on that vote here (click "Final Approval for Charter School Applicants" near the bottom of the agenda).

If you want to decide for yourself about the copying,  here's the 140-page Charlotte Learning Academy application filed in 2011 and the 155-page Cameron Creek application filed last year.