Philipsburg-Osceola Area board members reject charter school application

An application for a charter school in the Philipsburg-Osceola area has been officially rejected by the school board.

District solicitor Scott Etter presented a 31-page recommendation for denial of the application for the Central Pennsylvania Charter Academy, a proposed secondary liberal arts school based on the Harkness method of teaching, with a litany of reasons, based on the application itself and hearings held in December and January. Those included a lack of “clear and accurate information,” “a lack of readiness,” “failure to show demonstrated and sustainable support,” and errors and omissions in the budget.

Etter called the application, which was submitted in November two days before the state’s deadline for a charter to open for the 2013-14 school year, a “placeholder.”

That might reflect the fact that organizers pulled the proposal together in less than three months after former P-O board president Stephen Switala and two other board members resigned in August.

Other points centered on the lack of a concrete location. Switala had originally proposed utilizing the district’s own empty Wallaceton-Boggs Elementary.

In the second hearing, other potential sites were suggested, including a proposed lease for the former Charles Navasky Co. factory building in Chester Hill. Etter dismissed those suggestions as incomplete, and pointed to the factory as unsafe due to a fire that actually started in the building within five minutes of a recent tour.

Switala, however, has responded to some of these questions in past meetings, saying that many aspects cannot be given final answers until a charter is officially approved, putting his group in a Catch-22 position.

Etter also stipulated that the recommendations were made with input from the district’s finance director, director of student services, and supervisor of buildings and grounds, but not Superintendent Stephen Benson.

The superintendent, whose contract was voted down at the August meeting prompting Switala’s resignation, is listed as a member of the charter school’s “founding coalition.”

The application was denied unanimously.

Switala said he will meet with his group to decide on the next steps.

“I’d like to see the documentation for the recommendation for denial before commenting,” he said.

They will consider appealing the decision to the state Department of Education as an option, he said.