NORTH FULTON, Ga. – With local charter agreements set to expire in a year, the Fulton Science Academy High School (FSA HS) and the Fulton Sunshine Academy Elementary School (FSA ES) are seeking to become state charter schools beginning with the 2015-16 school year.
Petitions for both schools were submitted by their separate governing boards to the State Charter School Commission on May 15. The commission is scheduled to make its decision on Sept. 24. If approved, the schools would become state charter schools beginning July 1, 2015.
“We believe a state charter gives us the best opportunity to meet our mission of providing a science, math and technology-focused education to students who thrive in the smaller, more personalized environment,” said FSA HS Governing Board Chairwoman Maria Beug-Deeb.
The charter agreement between the Fulton County School System (FCSS) and both schools is up for renewal on June 30, 2015.
It is not surprising FSA HS chose to seek state status given its tenuous relationship with the FCSS over the past few years. In 2012, the district sought an early termination of the school’s charter in June 2013. This action was not approved by the State Board of Education, allowing the school to finish out the remaining two years in its charter.
Over the past year, FSA HS has weighed its options, and had considered applying to become a state charter school for the upcoming school year. The school was also working to rebuild its relationship with the FCSS to possibly remain a local charter school.
The high school has struggled with enrollment since opening in 2006, but appears to be on an uptick. A spokesperson for the school said they expect to register 320 students for the 2014-15 school year, compared to 178 this past year.
At the FSA ES in Roswell, the elementary school has become one of the higher performing schools in the system. This year, the school has approximately 570 students in grades kindergarten through fifth.
School officials said a state charter will allow FSA ES to function as an independent school district, responsible for managing all of its own operations including some currently handled by FCSS.
“A state charter gives us greater autonomy to operate our school,” Governing Board President Dr. Metin Oguzmert said. “We are looking forward to continuing to give our students the same quality education they have come to expect from Fulton Sunshine Academy.”
State charter status would sever accountability to the FCSS, and place the schools under the guidance of the State Charter Commission, an independent body of appointed officials created three years ago by the voters. The academic requirements, however, for the schools could actually increase under a state charter.
Last year, mandates were put into place requiring charter students to perform academically as well or better than students in similar schools across the state. A “similar” school is one whose student populations are alike in terms of demographics, poverty and other indicators. While the mandate does not apply to the state charter schools yet, a spokesperson said a “value added” formula will likely apply.
Funding, however, could go down as state charters do not receive the supplement from local tax revenues local schools receive, relying only on state funding. In Fulton County, nearly 40 percent of the school system budget is derived from local tax revenue.