Duquesne charter school proposal submitted

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Former Duquesne school director Connie Lucas struck out in her first attempt to start a charter school in the academically and financially troubled district earlier this month when the state Charter Appeals Board rejected the application she filed in May 2012.

But she was back at bat again Friday with a second proposal for a K-6 charter school that was aired at a public hearing before Paul Long, the state-assigned receiver for Duquesne.

The proposal calls for the school to start with about 200 students, and it was described at times as one where curriculum would be tied strongly to the Pennsylvania Common Core and science, technology, math and engineering concepts, at other times as a career academy and at another point as a school that would include an agricultural curriculum.

At the hearing, Ms. Lucas was surrounded by other members of the founding team of the Duquesne Charter School. They are retired Wilkinsburg superintendent Archie Perrin, his wife, Carolyn Perrin, a retired literacy coach from the Wilkinsburg district, local architect Larry Hasan and legal counsel Burrell Brown.

Mr. Brown said the founders recognized there were some errors and omissions in their application but that they were not significant enough to derail it.

But Duquesne chief recovery officer Paul Rach did not agree.

"This application lacks cohesiveness, is extraordinarily vague and doesn't adequately address curriculum," Mr. Rach said. He also said the proposal contained confusing information about finances and gave no indication that the school could be sustained financially. Ms. Lucas said the group has not secured any start-up funds to date.

Mr. Rach said there were a number of missing pages in the proposal and large sections that appeared to be copied from other documents. He questioned why the application said that Tennessee state history would be among electives offered and why no math curriculum was included.

Duquesne acting superintendent Barbara McDonnell said the application calls for contracting with the district for some services but the district has not agreed to provide any services nor has it agreed to lease a portion of the Duquesne Elementary School, as one of the site options in the application. The other site is the building that once housed the former Duquesne Catholic.

Burton Comensky, an elected school director in Duquesne, was the only resident to speak on the proposed charter school, and he said he opposed it because it would cost the district $2.1 million if it lost 200 students.

Ms. Lucas resigned from the board shortly after she made her initial application in 2012. She is determined to start a charter school in the city as an alternative to the failing elementary school that now exists and as an alternative for families in the future if students in grades K-6 are sent to another district as are those in grades 7-12, who attend either West Mifflin Area or East Allegheny school districts.

Mr. Long, as part of the recovery plan he devised for the district, had been in talks with Pittsburgh Public Schools about the possibility of sending Duquesne's K-6 students to the Pittsburgh schools. But Mr. Long and Pittsburgh solicitor Ira Weiss said the two sides have not met since the decision was made last spring to keep the Duquesne elementary students in Duquesne for the 2013-14 school year.

Charter school law requires that a decision be made on Ms. Lucas' application no earlier than 45 days and no later than 75 days after the hearing. So the earliest a decision could come would be Feb. 10 and the latest March 12. Mr. Long, who is operating the district, will make the decision.

Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.

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