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Published: Tuesday, 2/16/2010

Whiteford rejects plan to set up charter school

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

OTTAWA LAKE - Whiteford Agricultural Schools will not charter an online school, a residential public academy for troubled children, or any other type of charter school.

The Board of Education voted unanimously last week not to accept any applications at this time for charter schools in the district.

Superintendent Larry Shilling said the school board is taking the stance because of the costs involved in overseeing a charter school.

"We don't have the time and money. We had to cut staff and cut an administrative position. We are looking at making more cuts at the end of the year," Mr. Shilling said. "We are not in the position that we can take on the responsibility of looking after a charter school."

It is unclear what impact, if any, the board's resolution will have on the plans of a Southgate, Mich., group to establish a charter school in the township.

Michael Bartley, who is the chief executive officer of the nonprofit Metro Educational Concepts Inc., pitched plans for a residential charter school, using vacant cabins in the closed Island Resort at Legacy Golf Course, to school board members nearly a year ago.

However, a grant request that Mr. Bartley submitted to the Michigan Department of Education on behalf of the Monroe Legacy Group to plan the charter school was rejected.

Mr. Bartley said Whiteford Agricultural Schools officials wrongly told education department officials that the district had not received a "phase I application" from Monroe Legacy Group, causing the grant review to be stopped.

Mr. Bartley said he sent the application to school officials in May and state education department officials verified that the application was submitted.

But they declined to restart the process to review the planning grant.

"We are still trying to get the decision overturned that we are not eligible for the review process," Mr. Bartley said.

Kenneth Noble, who is on the board of directors of the charter school group, said he believes that the school board's motives to decline charter schools may not be financially driven.

"It is stupid on their part. If economics are an issue, they stand to make money if we are successful. I think it has some racial overtones," Mr. Noble said. "It really smells. I am not the type of person to play the race card, but it just smells."

When told of the accusation, Mr. Shilling said: "We are under no obligations to accept any applications for a charter school. The board will not accept any applications for charter schools."

The initial presentation to the school board indicated a desire to use the cabins for a residential dormitory setting for the charter school.

However, Mr. Bartley said the charter school's program was changing to target students from Monroe, Lenawee, and Washtenaw counties, and possibly outside Michigan for a virtual school, using laptop computers.

Because most of the coursework can be completed at home, the students occasionally would spend some time at Whiteford's gymnasium and cafeteria.

"The classes would be taught by certified teachers," Mr. Bartley said. "Many schools around the state and colleges and universities have online classes."

Mr. Noble said that Whiteford schools could keep 3 percent of the money the virtual school receives from the state of Michigan for authorizing the charter.

"We are talking a minimum of probably 400 to 500 students. It would be a win-win for everybody," Mr. Noble said.



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