3 charter schools apply to open in city next fall

A fourth one files request to expand

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In a district already expecting to spend $54.9 million on charter schools in 2014, Pittsburgh Public Schools has received applications from three new charter schools for next fall and a request to expand an existing one.

The deadline for requests for next fall was Friday.

The new applicants are:

* Homewood Children's Village Collegiate Charter School Community Campus, in Homewood, starting with 148 students in grades 6 and 7 and growing to 576 students in the fifth year in grades 6-12 and ultimately to 1,008 students in grades 6-12.

* Robert L. Vann Charter School, starting with 180 students in K-2, growing to 420 in K-6 in the fifth year in the Strip District and ultimately expanding to K-8. It would use the external management company of Athena Community Education Partners to help establish a microsociety curriculum.

* Provident Charter School for Children with Dyslexia, starting with 96 students in grades 3 and 4 and growing to 336 students in grades 2-8 in the sixth year. The school would be in the current site of the Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School, which is moving to Cranberry.

In addition, the Environmental Charter School at Frick Park, located in the former Regent Square and Park Place schools, wants to amend its charter so it can expand. The expansion, which would take place at other undetermined locations, would include adding grades 9-12 and a second K-8 school. While a date hasn't been set, such expansion would not take place before fall 2015.

ECS CEO Jon McCann said the high school would have 288 students, but a number hasn't been set for the K-8 school. ECS currently has 604 students and a waiting list of 400.

Charters are public schools open to state residents. Under state law, districts must pay for each resident who attends a charter school. In the case of Pittsburgh, that amounts to $12,871 for regular students or $27,923 for special education students.

The proposed 2014 city school budget already would spend about $1 of every $10 on charter schools, including a $2.8 million budgeted for a new Propel charter school in Hazelwood that is expected to open next fall.

If all three new charters were granted, the three schools could cost the district $5.4 million in the first year and $17.1 million in the fifth year. The figure could be more or less, depending on whether some students are in special education or come from outside the district or enrollment projections aren't met.

School districts must review applications for various standards, but can't consider their financial impact on the district.

The number of city residents in charter schools has grown from 1,262 in 2004 to 3,652 this fall. They attend 10 schools chartered by the district, 12 chartered by other districts and eight cyber charter schools.

The district must set a public hearing for each application within 45 days.

The Homewood Children's Village describes itself as a "comprehensive community initiative" modeled after Harlem's Children's Zone. It currently provides some services to three district schools: Pittsburgh Faison K-5 in Homewood, Lincoln PreK-5 in Lincoln-Lemington and Westinghouse 6-12 in Homewood.

Services to district schools would continue, said Derrick Lopez, president and CEO. He is the former assistant superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools, a job that included developing a controversial and short-lived single gender academy at Westinghouse that opened in fall 2011 after he left.

Asked whether the new school with 1,008 students would drain Westinghouse, which has 499 students, Mr. Lopez said, "That really is not our primary concern. Our primary concern is to educate the children of Homewood to really, really be able to take part in the 21st century."

He said the proposed charter school, which would operate on trimesters, has a wide variety of partners, would like to locate in the Greater Pittsburgh Coliseum of Homewood and would take students for part of their education to other locations in Homewood such as the YMCA, the Afro-American Music Institute, the Carnegie Library and the Bible Center WARM Center.

The school is seeking to pay for a license to use the curriculum at the district's Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy 6-12 in Oakland.

Jamil Bey of Beltzhoover, a former teacher in Clairton and McKeesport and president of the Vann board, said the school plans to remodel a warehouse in the Strip District unless it finds another location farther east. One site being considered, but which would require city school board approval, is the closed Belmar school building in Homewood.

Provident Charter School previously sought approval in the North Hills School District and later was part of an unsuccessful bid to locate in the closed Schenley High School.


Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.

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