Originally created 01/22/06

Board willing to seek support



Richmond County school board members, frustrated over delays in state approval of a new charter school, say they might ask the legislative delegation to intervene.

"If at this time things start getting bogged down again, then, yes, I think we'll ask for assistance from our local legislators," said board member Helen Minchew, who heads the school board's instruction committee.

Mrs. Minchew and other members of the Richmond County Board of Education have been expressing frustration and dissatisfaction with the way the state school board has been handling its charter school application for Jenkins-White Elementary.

Officials now hope the charter will get state approval in March. They had originally hoped for approval in July 2005, and school has been in session for four months without state approval of the charter.

"Our state legislators know what is going on, and we'll talk to them when it is appropriate," said Pat Burau, the assistant superintendent for school improvement and program development. "If at some point the board wants to take a new direction, this is up to them."

State Sen. Ed Tarver, D-Augusta, said he's met with Richmond County school officials and that "some miscommunications" regarding the charter approval were discussed.

"As a member of the General Assembly, I can certainly work to find out if there is a disconnect," Mr. Tarver said Thursday.

"I've been told there is a problem, and I'm definitely going to follow up and see if there is a problem."

He said he also plans to review the charter application process to determine whether it's applicable to state guidelines.

Mrs. Minchew and Mrs. Burau say they hope changes on the state school board will produce different results.

The terms of board members Jim Franklin and Pat Biggerstaff have expired, according to the Georgia Department of Education. They were two of the four members who served on the state board's charter school committee.

"I'm not bothered by them changing the players," Mrs. Burau said, but added the rules should not change, as she asserts has happened, and should be applied the same for all charter applications.

"After the fifth or sixth edition of things, you begin to wonder yourself," she said, having lost track of which edition the school system is now on.

Mrs. Biggerstaff has said it's a large responsibility for the committee to carefully question and screen applications because charters are usually issued for five years at a time.

The latest hurdle placed before Richmond County officials was answering another 30 questions in three days. Rather than feverishly answering the questions and submitting another installment of the charter application, they decided to hold off, answer the questions meticulously and proceed with caution.

All the while frustration continues to mount.

"They're asking questions they don't even need answers for," Mrs. Burau said.

By its nature, a charter school is exempt from certain portions of state law. The charter application is a request for those exemptions. State officials, however, are asking about areas where exemptions haven't been requested, she said.

The approval delays haven't slowed the implementation of some changes at Jenkins-White. For instance, the staff has changed and some subjects are taught in gender-separate classes.

Other changes, however, remain on hold until the state school board approves the charter.

Richmond County schools spokeswoman Mechelle Jordan said the school is operating as it would if it were not trying to convert to a charter school, adding the delays aren't affecting the pupils' credit for attending class.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

Working toward approval

The following is a timeline of events for the charter application:

May 2005: Petition submitted to the Georgia Board of EducationAugust: Revised petition submitted

Aug. 15: School began

October: Revised petition resubmitted

November: Eight questions about the petition answered

Nov. 30: State school board asks for answers to 30 questions by Dec. 2. Richmond County decided to hold off, answer the questions carefully and proceed with caution.

Feb. 9, 2006: Richmond County expected to consider approving the latest answers

March 9: Earliest the state school board could possibly approve the charter petition.

Source: Richmond County Board of Education