Propel school plan rejected in Sto-Rox
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For the second time, the Sto-Rox school board has voted unanimously to reject a charter application from Propel schools to open a K-12 school within the district, an action that ends a two-month discussion between the two sides about possible cooperation.
The vote, taken Thursday, means that Propel founder and executive director Jeremy Resnick will head to the state charter appeals board as he has done several times since opening his first school in Homestead in September 2003. Propel currently operates nine schools in Allegheny County.
"It's the same old thing. Throw everything against the wall and see what sticks," Mr. Resnick said of Sto-Rox superintendent Michael Panza's lengthy presentation on reasons why the board should not approve the charter for the proposed Propel West school.
Mr. Panza listed numerous concerns about Propel's charter application and the way it operates its schools. He said the location for Propel West -- at an industrial site in McKees Rocks -- is contaminated and not suitable for a school and implied Propel shies away from serving special education students.
Mr. Resnick said both claims are false.
Mr. Panza also said the Propel program "does not present anything new or innovative" that the Sto-Rox district doesn't already offer and warned that approval of the charter "will bankrupt this district."
The charter application calls for Propel to operate a K-12 school that would eventually enroll 800 students. Sto-Rox currently has an enrollment of about 1,400 students.
Propel filed its initial application with Sto-Rox in July 2011. In November 2011, the board voted unanimously to reject that application.
Propel filed an amended application, which was originally set to be voted upon in July. But at the July 19 meeting, the board voted to create a committee to explore how the district could work cooperatively with Propel, moving the vote on the charter to Sept. 20.
The two sides met several times and both sides reported Thursday that they thought they had made progress. However, Propel officials asked for the vote at Thursday's meeting after the district failed to agree to an offer Propel made to pay Sto-Rox to share facilities, with Propel making payments to the district and limiting the size of its school.
In a Sept. 13 letter to the district, Propel offered to limit the grade span of his school to K-8, starting with K-6 and limiting total enrollment to 420 students. Propel was also willing to agree to limit the number of Sto-Rox students for the first three years to two-thirds of the total population.
Propel wanted to use a district building, paying about $300,000 for utilities, maintenance and cleaning.
Propel also offered annual contributions to a "Community/School Improvement Fund" in the amount of $690,000 the first year and $280,000 in subsequent years.
Mr. Panza responded with a Sept. 14 letter asking to extend the conversations between the sides in an "open format" and indicating a willingness "to discuss long-term options" though using the district's middle school was not one of them. Board President Elizabeth Smith said she would be willing to continue discussions with Propel in an open meeting, with all board members and the community present.
First Published September 21, 2012 12:00 am