This article appeared in The Herald-Sun in January 2013:

DURHAM — Public charter schools in Durham could more than double in the next two years.

As of last week, the state Department of Public Instruction had received 161 letters of intent for new charters. Of those, 11 are in Durham, including one virtual school. It’s not quite the same as filing an official application – those aren’t required until March.

But the numbers still give Natalie Beyer pause.

“To me, it comes to a question of what our vision for all our local schools is, and to me this feels very chaotic,” said Beyer, a member of the Durham Public Schools Board of Education. “If the state board granted 10 additional charters to join the 10 already promised here, we’d be closing doors of existing schools.”

Possible new Durham schools that could file applications during the next few months include Antonio Academy, Excelsior Classical Academy, Idlewild Academy of Business, Arts and Technology, Southpoint Academy, Triangle Military Academy, Pinnacle Charter School, Paul Robeson Academic Academy, LEAP Academy, Daniyel and Childrens’ Learning Center and North Carolina Connections Academy. Connections, owned by textbook publisher Pearson, would provide a statewide online public K-12 charter program.

Orange County may see two more charter schools, including ABLE and The Expedition School. Chatham would also be covered by ABLE, as well as a proposed New Hope Charter School. Liberty Academy has been proposed for Granville County.

A report issued late last year by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools showed that Durham ranked 22nd in the country for public charter school market share. After that report came out, Carl Forsyth, managing director at Durham’s Voyager Academy charter school, recommended a moratorium on new charters for Durham.

State Rep. Paul Luebke, who represents Durham, introduced a bill two years ago that would have capped charter schools at a percentage of the county’s traditional public schools. That bill never made it out of committee, however.

Beyer thinks now might be a good time to revisit the idea.

“It might be something important to explore in the next session of the General Assembly so we have some feeling of local governance that is strategic rather than chaotic,” she said.

Last year, after ending a statewide cap on charters, North Carolina’s state Board of Education received applications for 63 public charter schools. Less than half made it through the interview and approval process. In March, state officials will find out how many of those are expected to be ready to open this fall.

Joel Medley, who leads the state’s office that oversees charter schools, said, “We very well could see more than double the amount of applications” this year.

That’s not great news for his office. Not including his administrative assistant, he has three full-time employees to manage more than 100 charter schools already on the books, or about one for every 33 charters. The national average is one full-time employee for every nine charters.

“Our current staffing levels are not sufficient and we will need to add more staff,” Medley said. “We have requested more in our budget but have to wait and see what comes back.”

By Brody

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