Propel charter application not recommended for approval by charter review team


The Pittsburgh Public Schools Charter Review Team announced earlier this week its recommendation that the school board not approve the charter school application of Propel Charter Schools to open a location on the Northside.

The Board of Directors’ vote on the Propel application as well as three other charter schools was postponed from Feb. 9 to Feb. 16 because not enough board members came to the Feb. 9 meeting.

Reasons cited for the review team’s recommendation include the absence of a comprehensive curriculum for all grade levels, absence of a curriculum for science and social studies, absence of long-range goals for all students and the lack of a plan for meeting the needs of students with disabilities in compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The district’s Charter Review Team did acknowledge the success of the other six Propel schools throughout Allegheny County. Propel Northside would have begun as K-4 school with 40 students in each grade and expanded to K-8.

Propel’s application was not alone in being recommended a “no.” The Charter Review Team recommended the board not approve two other applications, and recommended qualified approval of the Urban Pathways K-5 College Charter School Downtown.

Propel Executive Director Jeremy Resnick said Propel staff were disappointed by the decision and said it was not always clear what the school board was looking for in an application.

“I guess there’s just some confusion about what paper they wanted,” Resnick said. “Once it becomes clear what [the school board] is looking for, we’ll give it to them, and we’ll be approved.”

Resnick did not want to comment on what exactly the “confusion” was, and said that since the board has not yet voted it is too early to think about whether or not they will need appeal to the State Charter School Appeal Board.

Under Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law, charter applicants can appeal to state board if a local school district denies the charter application.

Charter schools are independent public schools funded partly by local school districts and the state. Under Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law, charter schools must adhere to the same state standards as regular public schools, but should provide different, creative curriculums from other available schools.

“It should be possible to open a school in Pittsburgh without having to make a trip to Harrisburg,” Resnick said.

Five of Propel’s six schools’ initial charter applications were denied by local school districts and had to be taken to the state appeal board, Resnick said, but added that Propel did not apply for a new school with the assumption it would have to go to Harrisburg again.

“It’s a process,” Resnick said. “At the end of the process, there will be a school.”

With the status of Propel’s application uncertain, Resnick said the search for a location was ongoing, and would not comment on whether the address in Manchester included in the charter application was a place holder.

Manchester already has two schools: the Manchester Elementary School, a public school, and the Manchester Academic Charter School, which serves grades K – 8. Some Manchester residents opposed Propel’s application because they fear it will take away from the public school.

“We’re working to find the best location for a school, and you can’t lock in facilities until you have a charter,” he said.

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