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Charter school appeals moratiorium decision

NASHUA — A charter school that is seeking state authorization to open in Nashua has filed an appeal contesting the recent moratorium on charter schools in New Hampshire.

On Monday, the Gate City Charter School for the Arts filed an appeal with the New Hampshire Office of Legislation and Hearings, requesting that the New Hampshire Board of Education reverse its moratorium decision no later than Nov. 21. The school is also asking that its application be immediately reviewed once the moratorium is lifted.

&#';This moratorium came as a total surprise to us. There was no warning,&#'; Karin Cevasco, co-founder of the school, said on Wednesday. &#';We have done as much as we can without authorization, but we are ready to move forward. All of these delays are continuing to impact us.&#';

The state Board of Education voted Sept. 19 to enact an indefinite moratorium on authorizing new charter schools after learning there would be a $5 million shortfall in state aid for charter schools this fiscal year.

However, the State Board of Education Chairman Tom Raffio recently told key lawmakers the board would consider applications again if there was some assurance additional state money would be forthcoming.

The moratorium could be lifted as early as next month, according to Raffio, who said last week that applications could come back before the board at its November meeting if the fiscal committee votes to approve the additional $5 million.

&#';We can't take this school to the next level until we have funding,&#'; Cevasco said. &#';People are excited for this school, but some individuals are feeling doubtful.&#';

As the Gate City Charter School for the Arts searches for members of its new Board of Trustees, she said organizers are looking for a diverse and professional group of men and women to help guide the new school.

&#';That is a big commitment, and people want to be confident that we will get approved and have funding in place,&#'; said Cevasco.

In its appeal, the school claims the moratorium decision is flawed for several reasons.

&#';The state BOE cites a lack of funding for charter schools in the current state budget. Gate City Charter School for the Arts will begin receiving funding in September 2013,&#'; states the written appeal. &#';This is a new state budget that begins July 2013. There is time to adequately project charter school enrollment and include in the line item money for the students of Gate City Charter School for the Arts.&#';

The appeal goes on to say that authorization of a new public charter school needs to take place well ahead of the opening of the school, as it takes about a year to file and secure all of the licenses to operate.

The Gate City Charter School for the Arts applied for a charter on Jan. 20, and was told the institution could meet with state education officials in June. However, Cevasco said the meeting with education Commissioner Virginia Barry was delayed, and the moratorium was issued before it was rescheduled.

Cevasco plans to attend an Oct. 17 state Board of Education meeting to address the appeal, and is hopeful she will have an opportunity to speak.

It was the school's expectation to open in September 2013, but Cevasco admits that may be a tough challenge with a moratorium now in place. Even if the moratorium is lifted in November, the school will still have a tight deadline, she added.

&#';But I believe in the creative potential for every student, which is why I am so passionate about this effort,&#'; she said. &#';I believe in nurturing the arts within the general curriculum.&#';

The goal of the proposed public charter school is to offer classes for kindergarten through eighth grade. If it receives authorization, the school will open its doors to kindergarten through fourth-grade the first year, and then one additional grade level will be added each year for the next four years. A site for the new school has not yet been determined.

In a Sept. 20 letter explaining the moratorium decision, Raffio said that over the last two years, the state has approved eight new charter schools.

&#';This has increased the total amount of the state's adequacy payments by more than $5 million dollars. There is no further appropriation for additional charter schools,&#'; he said. &#';While the state Board of Education continues to be supportive of charter schools, in its discretion, will not approve any additional charter schools at this time.&#';

There are currently 15 new charter schools throughout New Hampshire expected to seek state approval.

khoughton@newstote.com

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