RALEIGH, NC (WECT) - The North Carolina Charter School Advisory Council voted unanimously Monday to recommend the State Board of Education waive an attendance requirement this year at the fledgling Douglass Academy Charter School in Wilmington.
The school opened this year and currently serves 33 students, which is well below the state mandate of a minimum of 65 students at a charter school.
Headmaster Barbra Jones explained the main reason for the low enrollment this year was a delay in the identification of a viable facility for the school. Jones also mentioned a post office error that prevented 6,000 mailers from getting to potential enrollees and their families. Douglass Academy initially planned an enrollment of 225 students for this school year.
With only two students from the targeted area of the south side of the city of Wilmington attending Douglass, Jones said she's "been told by several in the community that they have a wait and see attitude."
Jones said after an open enrollment period in January for the next school year, Douglass is expecting at least 75 students in the fall.
Douglass Academy Board of Trustees Chair John J. Ferrante said the board has based next year's budget on an enrollment of 85 students.
"We're requesting a waiver, a little bit more time, I think we're going to hit the numbers," John Ferrante said to the council. Ferrante says the school expects to break even this year due to a $100,000 donation and the waiver of management fees. Earlier this month, Americans for Prosperity highlighted Douglass as a success story for charter schools.
The state statute allows waivers for schools based on a geographical isolation, which all council members seemed to agree was not the case with Douglass. However, the council said one item after another seemed to compound the problems at Douglass, leading to the low enrollment.
If Douglass fails to have a minimum of 65 students after the second month of the new school year, the board could lose its right to operate the school. However, the council agreed since that won't be determined until well into the next school year, Douglass will have a second year regardless.
Council members pointed to the management company of Douglass Academy as assurance that this project has a good chance to succeed. Douglass is managed by The Roger Bacon Academy. Baker Mitchell is the Founder and President of The Roger Bacon Academy and also sits on the Charter School Advisory Council. Mitchell recused himself from the discussion and vote Monday.
The State Board of Education still has to approve the council's request for the waiver for Douglass Academy.
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