Catasauqua Press

Thursday, February 20, 2020

District votes ‘no’ to charter school renewal

Wednesday, January 15, 2020 by Samantha Anderson sanderson@tnonline.com in Local News

Eight months after the initial hearing, the Catasauqua Area School District Board of Education voted unanimously not to renew the charter for Innovative Arts Academy Charter School.

The vote took place during the Jan. 14 regular school board meeting.

Catasauqua residents and teachers, staff, families and students of IAACS filled the CASD administrative board room May 21 and 22, 2019, for the charter renewal hearing before the board of education.

Representing CASD were academic review team members Robert Spengler, superintendent; Dr. Christina Lutz-Doemling, director of curriculum and assessment; and Eric Dauberman, Sheckler Elementary School principal. Marc Fisher represented the charter school. He was joined by IAACS transitional CEO Brad Schifko. Solicitor David Knerr oversaw the hearing.

IAACS was originally approved in February 2016 for a three-year charter. The school was seeking a five-year charter renewal.

Following the May hearings, there was a 30-day span for the public to submit written comments. At the Jan. 14 meeting, Spengler and board President Carol Cunningham reported there were no comments submitted.

The school board delayed a vote on the charter renewal at the Aug. 13, 2019, meeting. Board members requested holding off on voting until they could obtain more data from the 2018-19 school year.

That information was not available until October 2019, according to Knerr. Due to conflicts in November and December, a vote was not possible until now.

Additional documentation including proficient or advanced scores, academic growth scores and other data from Pennsylvania Department of Education comparing IAACS to other schools in the area was introduced as board exhibits.

In his comments, Fisher noted the charter school representatives objected to the Jan. 14 hearing and the additional documentation. He argued new information should not be taken into account by the district school board. He attested the board members should only focus on the information presented in the May 2019 hearings.

Knerr mentioned the board specifically asked for more information, which is why the decision was held off for so long.

Fisher also noted some of the new documentation included information that was previously available but not part of the original testimony. He also argued some of the new data compared IAACS to other school districts without accounting for IAACS’ unique grade structure.

Knerr noted he respectfully disagreed with some of Fisher’s conclusions and noted the board members may take the new information into consideration.

The board members were asked to vote on two points. The first was whether to allow or deny the charter renewal. The second was whether to renew the charter or not.

Board member Jason Bashaw made the motion to deny the charter renewal and to not renew the charter. Dale Hein seconded the motion.

At least five votes were required to pass the motion. All seven board members present at the meeting voted to deny the charter renewal and to not renew the charter.

“The performance of the charter school is abysmal over the three-year period,” Cunningham said.

Bashaw said he was shocked Fisher and school representatives spent so much time nitpicking over numbers instead of talking about the students and their achievements.

“They are who this is all about,” he lamented.

IAACS representatives have the option to appeal the decision before the charter school appeal board.