State board reverses Sto-Rox school board's denial of Propel charter

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A state Charter Appeals Board decision to grant a charter to Propel to open a K-12 school in the Sto-Rox School District could result in the exodus of hundreds of students from the financially and academically troubled district.

The state board on Tuesday voted unanimously to reverse the 2012 rejection by the Sto-Rox school board of a charter application initially filed by Propel in November 2011.

While Propel West would open with just several grades at the elementary level and limited enrollment at the high school level, plans call for it to eventually grow to 800 students. State enrollment records show Sto-Rox had about 1,400 students in fall 2013, the most recent enrollment statistics available.

“We’re really pleased to have this decision from the Charter Appeals Board,” said Jeremey Resnick, Propel founder and executive director. “It’s great news for the families who have been stuck on Propel waiting lists and looking for Propel options for their children and we are really looking forward to working with the Sto-Rox School District and community in a way that is positive for the communities and families there and something that everyone can be proud of.”

The charter board approved the Propel charter on the condition that a legally compliant school building is constructed.

One of the objections to the initial Propel charter application was that it planned to use a site in a McKees Rocks industrial park. Former superintendent Michael Panza said in the district’s written objections to the application that the site was contaminated.

However, Mr. Resnick said there are two options to be considered for Propel West. One is an empty lot in Stowe, the site of a former elementary school. The other option would be for the district to rent space to Propel in its buildings where the district and charter programs could operate side-by-side.

At public meetings held after Propel submitted its charter application, residents who attended appeared evenly split between those who wanted a better opportunity for their children and those who feared it would strip the district of significant funds, destroy the championship football and basketball teams, and cause the area’s major employer to eliminate jobs.

In summer 2012, the Sto-Rox board delayed its vote on the Propel application to take part in discussions on how the district could work cooperatively with Propel. But when those talks produced no substantial progress, Propel requested a vote and the board rejected the application. An appeal was later made to the state.

Mr. Panza, before becoming superintendent in the West Jefferson Hills School District a year ago, fought vigorously against Propel, stating that if the district lost 800 students to Propel, it would loose more than $11.5 million in tuition money.

Terry DeCarbo, who took over as Sto-Rox superintendent this month, offered no opinion on the charter board’s decision.

“The Sto-Rox school board is going to continue to work towards providing the best and most appropriate education for the Sto-Rox students,” he said. “Any decision regarding the charter or any partnership is going to be done thoughtfully and with the students’ education first and foremost. That’s what our vision and mission is.”

Mary Niederberger;, 412-263-1590. Harrisburg reporter Karen Langley contributed. First Published July 29, 2014 12:00 AM

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