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City Faces Charter School Test

A second charter school proposal emerges as controversy heats up at Richmond Schools.



Richmond Public School administrators have received a second charter school application, this one from a group planning a middle and high school focused on technology, math and science.

The Richmond Education Foundation first announced its plans last year, but officially filed its application Friday, Jan. 29, two days before the official deadline of Jan. 31, which fell on a Sunday.

Members of the proposed charter school's board say they hope for a September opening for their tentatively named Richmond Science Academy, a quick turnaround that the city's first proposed charter institution, the Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts, was unable to accomplish. Patrick Henry's charter was granted in 2008.

Richmond's proposed charter schools, the first in the metro area — there are only four statewide — are fast becoming a political battleground both in the debate over how to fix a troubled urban public school district and in Gov. Bob McDonnell's broader statewide agenda to expand public school options.

Charter schools operate much like private schools, without many of the local and state restrictions on curriculum, but receive city and state money and operate under the purview of local school boards.

“We hope it will be the first in Richmond as a middle-school model,” says Al Dalkilic, a board member with the school, which would initially offer slots to 216 middle-school-aged children. Dalkilic says his board is preparing for political resistance within the Richmond schools, which have wrangled with the Patrick Henry organizers for more than a year: “We expect it will be the same for us as well.”

Two points are in this second application's favor. The first is that board members say their plan tied to no specific building, as with Patrick Henry, which is predicated on opening in the 80-year-old elementary school near Forest Hill Park.

The second is that founders, aware of crunched budgets among donor organizations, aren't counting on funding from outside sources. Instead, board members say the application is based on a contingency plan to personally back any loans that might be necessary if private donations or grants fail to materialize. Board members so far have contributed about $35,000 to the school's treasury.

Erhan Yilmaz, vice president of the new foundation, says the school's organizers hope their plan will rise above the political tug-of-war between supporters of charters and the Richmond School Board.

Dalkilic says, “We just want to open a charter school.”

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