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Published: Thursday, 7/28/2005

Area charter schools vie for right to open

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Al Merritt and his son Brian help get the Bennett Venture Academy ready in time for next month's opening. The academy is one of two facilities to compete with 60 other institutions. Al Merritt and his son Brian help get the Bennett Venture Academy ready in time for next month's opening. The academy is one of two facilities to compete with 60 other institutions.
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Sixty-two new Ohio charter schools, including two in Toledo, will compete tomorrow in a lottery for the right to open their doors next month.

The two Toledo schools are The Maritime Academy of Toledo, which does not yet have a location selected, and Bennett Venture Academy, at 5130 Bennett Rd.

Only 30 spots for new charter schools were allotted in the state budget signed by Gov. Bob Taft on June 30.

Officials with the Ohio Department of Education previously have said as many as 112 schools could participate in the lottery.

Bennett Venture Academy, which is operated by Grand Rapids, Mich.- based National Heritage Academies, will likely be allowed to open regardless of the lottery results, a company official said.

A clause in the law says any charter school operator, which has another charter school ranked in continuous improvement or better, will be allowed to open a school in Ohio above the 30-school cap.

Pathway School of Discovery, a Dayton charter school, which is operated by National Heritage Academies, is rated as having continuous improvement in the state's five-step rating system.

"We were very concerned when we learned of the cap," said Ginger Young, National Heritage Academies marketing manger.

"We have been assured by the state, as a charter school management company, we have the right to obtain a charter above the cap if we have another school in the state of Ohio that shows continuous improvement," Ms. Young said.

J.C. Benton, spokesman from the Ohio Department of Education, said no companies have told the state they intend to use that clause in the law.

National Heritage, which operates 51 charter schools nationally, including eight in Ohio, spent $4 million to build the Bennett Venture Academy, a school housing kindergarten through fifth graders, which has enrolled 400 students and hired 19 teachers.

The company also operates Winterfield Venture Academy in Toledo, a 340-student charter school at 305 Wenz Rd.

In 2003, National Heritage Academies was named one of the fastest-growing companies in the nation by Inc. magazine. The firm's chief executive officer is J.C. Huizenga, a printing plate magnate who is a major GOP donor.

The Marazon Group, which operates Victory Academy charter school serving students in kindergarten to eighth grade at 3319 Nebraska Ave., had planned to open two more Toledo charter schools: The Maritime Academy this fall and a military academy charter school in September, 2006.

Renee Marazon, president of the company, said she has abandoned plans for the military academy for now, but is still hopeful The Maritime Academy will win a spot in tomorrow's lottery.

The 62 schools in the lottery are those not sponsored by traditional public school districts. Thirty spots are also available for charter schools sponsored by school districts, but only six will participate.

Toledo Public Schools plans to open the Imani Learning Academy next month at the former St. Hyacinth Elementary School, 728 Parkside Blvd.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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