Board members with Ardmore Community Academy, a proposed charter school, were barraged with concerns from locals on the impact such an establishment would have on the community.
Brett Stidham, school founder and designer, depicted his vision of ideal education in an open meeting Monday night at the HFV Wilson Community Center on East Main Street. A focus on relationship development, student-led conferences and a specially designed math curriculum revolved around a nucleus of what Stidham called “expeditionary learning.”
Ardmore Community Academy seeks approval after being denied by the Ardmore City Schools Board of Education earlier this month due to questions about funding, transportation and communal support. Similar concerns were voiced by those who attended Saturday evening and quizzed Stidham on his map for building a constructive place of learning.
James Foreman, a board member for ACS, suggested that if such a school outside of any area school districts were to cherry pick students currently enrolled in them, substantial financial loss would be accrued. ACS estimates to lose more than $4 million in state aid over the next five years if the charter school is approved.
Those in attendance were also concerned about approaching state funding budget cuts. A pitch for a charter school comes at an inopportune time, they said, a decision that could result in teachers being hired only to be immediately let go.
“This is a bad time to be starting a new school because of the budget cuts. And those cuts will affect the charter school, too,” Foreman said. “We’ll probably have more cuts coming to education soon that we don’t know.”
Regarding state budget cuts, three percent out of ACA’s proposed budget has been allocated in the event of a cut, Stidham said, a figure he said the board settled on based on preceding state cuts.
“Our budget is minimalistic,” he said, also describing a modest staff. “For us, there are certain functions that can be contracted for that are far less expensive were we to hire someone.”
Stidham also denied that a charter school would be detrimental to existing school districts, claiming that such fluctuation between school districts and student intake shape how a school either develops or downsizes. If more students come, more sections and accommodations will be made, he said, and vice versa.
Because charter school contracts are filed for five-year terms, ACA, if approved, would operate with a proposed 100 students starting in 2018, eventually reaching a proposed 300 by 2023.
“Students moving for whatever the case may be … those are the ebbs and flows from districting,” Stidham said. “Those are decisions each district has to decide, where priorities and funding will be allocated within the system.”
The proposed location of the charter school on the east side of town near the HFV Center has also taken many residents in that area by surprise, those in attendance.
Foreman, who said he knew people even across the street from the community center, lamented a charter school being built in such close proximity. In some ways, they feel the center is steadily being taken away from them, he added.
Stidham, by way of a grant he received from Native American Community Academy (NACA) Inspired Schools Network in New Mexico, of which he is a fellow, said he immersed himself in the community to seek out what they truly desired in a school system.
He said he met with several local government officials, residents and more in pursuit of a more ideal school system, despite being accused of an incomprehensive scan of the community.
“I want to make one thing clear: This conversation is about the children, period. This conversation is based on the fact that there is such a difference based upon the elementary school you attend. And that volatility across the district is my principal concern.”
The Ardmore Community Academy will host another community forum to discuss the possible addition of a charter school to the Ardmore School district at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Ardmore Public Library.