Originally created 09/23/04

Fox Creek's teacher service under fire



AIKEN - The testy relationship between the Edgefield County school district and the county's only public charter school has flared anew, this time over Fox Creek High School's use of special-education teachers borrowed from other schools in the county.

With school district officials authorized to start charging Fox Creek High for the service, charter school officials will have to either cut a quick payment deal or look for another way to serve students with learning disabilities, said Sharon Keesley, Edgefield County's school superintendent.

"We gave them the grace time to get set up," Dr. Keesley said of the charter school, which opened its doors for the first time in August.

"We just feel like from here on out, if they don't have the staff to do what they need to do and have to pull from our staff, we should be getting some of that money back."

When Fox Creek High borrows special services staff from other county schools, it pulls these employees off of their regular jobs and costs the county overtime pay, Dr. Keesley said. At its Aug. 24 meeting, the Edgefield County school board voted to start billing Fox Creek High for services provided by the district.

The school will be charged $15 an hour for instructional staff and $35 an hour for administrative staff. Dr. Keesley said she hopes this will make the school use the county's services less.

However, these fees were not spelled out in the school's charter, said Fox Creek High School Principal John Gratop, and have to be approved by the school's board before any payments can take place.

"These fees have to be negotiated, and we don't feel like we have enough of a track record to set some of those fees yet," Mr. Gratop said.

Nearing the end of the school's first nine weeks, Mr. Gratop said he is still waiting on test scores and other academic information from the school district for some Fox Creek students.

Dr. Keesley said the school district donated and installed computers for free at the new charter school, trained substitute teachers and helped set up payroll and health insurance.

"We have been doing everything we can to help get them off the ground," Dr. Keesley said. "But these are above and beyond startup costs."

This isn't the first squabble the two parties have had this year. In its first year of existence, Fox Creek High did not meet the minority requirement for a South Carolina charter school. Only two of the school's 135 students are minorities - less than 1 percent of the student body. The number should mirror the nearly 60 percent minority representation at the 900-student Strom Thurmond High School said Greg Anderson, an attorney for Edgefield County schools.

But the school will not face any fines because their recruiting practices were found to be fair and were approved by the Edgefield County school board after a review, Dr. Keesley said.

"They are making efforts to be in compliance with that," she said. "They will have to keep trying to recruit more minorities."

Reach Karen Ethridge at (803) 648-1395, ext. 109, or karen.ethridge@augustachronicle.com.

The Edgefield County Board of Education has passed a proposal that would make Fox Creek High School pay for services provided by the school district. But Fox Creek Principal John Gratop said the charter school's board will have to negotiate the fees before the district can begin charging for services.