Wilkes-Barre Area School Board members may not see it this way, but Gabby Richards did them and district taxpayers a service by announcing efforts to launch a charter high school in or near Meyers High School, if the district completes it’s plan to merge Meyers and Coughlin into a new building.
Make no mistake, such a move is difficult and almost surely a long way off. And while Richards told the receptive crowd at a Monday meeting that Save Our Schools was behind the effort, attorney Kim Borland, who has been with the group from the start and provided legal services, said the idea has been discussed but never formally approved by SOS.
Why should the school board pay attention? Because a competing charter school filling the void of a shuttered Meyers is not only a real possibility, but has precedence.
In 2002, when the district closed Bear Creek Elementary to save money, parents organized and launched a long but eventually successful push to open a charter school in the same building for grades 1 through 8. That school proved highly successful, opening in 2004 with 98 students and growing so successful the organizers recently built a new school further south on State Route 115, a spacious, 63,000-square-feet structure on 307 acres.
District officials have ever since lamented at money lost to Bear Creek and cyber charter schools. That’s because the state education subsidy goes with the student. When a student leaves Wilkes-Barre Area School District to attend Bear Creek, so does state money.
But Richards is taking on a daunting challenge. For starters, Bear Creek remains the only brick and mortar charter school in Luzerne County. There’s also the fact that, under state law, the district where a charter school plans to be must approve the charter, though organizers can eventually appeal a denial to the state.
If the charter is put in the Meyers building, the district of course would have to agree to any deal with a building it owns. And the organizers would have to deal with a building the district contends needs extensive repairs to costly for it to afford.
And a charter high school is much more complex than a charter grade school, and rarer. State data lists 154 brick and mortar charter schools. Of those, 14 house grades 9 through 12 — the logical grade range for a second charter school in Luzerne County competing with Bear Creek Community Charter.
Wider grade ranges exist in more numbers: Nine charter schools run six through 12, six run 7 through 12 and one is 8 through 12. There are about 30 that have some mix of lower elementary (mostly kindergarten) through 12, one that is 10 through 12 and one that is 12 only. The majority, 92 don’t go up to 12 at all, and most of those stop at 8.
But this is the bottom line: A charter school is an option, it has happened here and elsewhere precisely because residents become dissatisfied with a school district’s decisions. And the Wilkes-Barre Area Board would do well to keep that possibility in mind as it moves forward. Richards simply planted the seed.
– Times Leader