Printed on: January 02, 2013

Local charters denied

By Nate Sunderland
nsunderland@postregister.com

The leaders of proposed charter schools in Blackfoot and Idaho Falls said they may appeal a decision that bars them from opening.

The Idaho Public Charter Schools Commission on Monday decided against approving charters for the Bingham Academy in Blackfoot and the Odyssey Charter School in Idaho Falls.

Commission Chairman Alan Reed would not elaborate on the specifics behind the charters' denial, but said there were significant problems with both.

"The commission was uncomfortable with things in the charters that they felt were not right," Reed said. "We want to see charter schools ... but we want quality charter schools that can protect taxpayer money, and we want to make sure a school can function properly."

The schools can appeal the commission's decision to the Idaho State Board of Education, which can appoint a negotiator to review the case.

School founders admitted some shock following the commission's decision.

"I feel that the (commission's) decision was arbitrary, and I disagree with it," Bingham Academy founder Greg Sigerson said. "We will pursue whatever courses of action remain open to us to ensure the charter goes forth."

Sigerson and his school board haven't made the decision to appeal yet, he said, but it is an option that is on the table.

The decision casts some uncertainty on whether the school will received a $600,000 federal startup grant it was allocated last month.

Bingham Academy was voted down unanimously by the commission.

The board said the school's academic readiness plan was not up to par, Sigerson said. He disagrees with that assessment because the plan was based on state standards.

Odyssey founder Chris Peterson feels her charter was shot down because of technicalities.

"The commission is clearly not charter school friendly," Peterson said.

She said the commission found fault with the charter's intent to pay school administrators a conservative wage of $50,000, rather than a high wage of about $70,000. Peterson contends the charter's pay scale was based on state standards.

The commission also indicated Odyssey plans to serve 30 students per classroom, which is not conducive with a charter school atmosphere, Peterson said. However, Peterson contends the school never planned to serve more than 20 students per classroom.

Odyssey was voted down by a split vote. The majority of the commission voted in favor of the charter, but a unanimous vote is required.

"I think we will end up appealing because the reasons we were struck down for were very strange," Peterson said.

Commission Director Tamara Baysinger was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

On Dec. 6, she said the commission was frustrated about the length of time it was taking for both schools to amend errors in their charters after multiple meetings with the commission.

"The general feeling by the commission is that these petitioners should have been able to complete their petition by now with all the guidance they've received," Baysinger said at the time. "(The approval process) typically takes about four months, and both of these schools have been in the process for about a year.

"They need to get this finished, or it's time to quit trying."

Nate Sunderland can be reached at 542-6763. Comment on this story on Post Talk at www.postregister.com/posttalk/.