After a lengthy PowerPoint presentation that consisted primarily of concerns and questions he said had only partially been addressed, Superintendent Martirano made a surprise recommendation to the St. Mary’s County Public School Board to approve the application for a charter school. Despite some strong criticism and intense questioning the members of the board unanimously followed his recommendation. However, Martirano was quick to stress that this does not mean the school will necessarily open.
The Chesapeake Public Charter School group first submitted their application in November of 2004 and has since been trying to meet stipulations set by the board of education. Initially the application was dismissed, but that ruling was overturned by a successful appeal at the state level. The state overruled the school board’s objection that a facility had not been found for the proposed school and instead gave the charter group was given until December 30th to find a location. The site that was settled upon was Christ Episcopal Church in Chaptico.
Dr. Martirano focused his criticism and concern almost exclusively upon the charter school’s physical facility. Questions about the church’s suitability ranged from improving disabled access, gaining fire marshal approval, and ensuring electricity lines could support the school’s demands, to concerns about safety due to the fact that the church would occupy to offices and might have visitors as well as staff entering the building during school hours. The charter school group, which was awarded $100,000 in grants from the state, argued that they were in a Catch 22 situation with the school board demanding the site be up to high standards in order to approve the application but unable to access the grant money with which to make improvements until they received approval.
Dr. Martirano recommended the board approve the application but with a view to opening the school no earlier than August 2007, a year later than the founding members of the school had hoped. The superintendent said he had raised the bar and any school that was going to open would have to at least meet the high standards of the other twenty-four schools in the system.
Dr. Martirano with CPCS member Kate Sullivan
Despite the approval from the board today, the charter group faces a tough road ahead, especially in the next thirty days, which is all they have to create a charter agreement, as required by Maryland State Board of Education. The group will need to address all of the concerns about their facilities, and the board of education will need to approve the charter agreement.
Several of the board members voiced their concerns about how the group would be able to address their reservations and objections in such a short period.
“There are so many questions and so many issues,” said board member Sal Raspa, “and it would seem to me that there should have been enough time to have some answers or partial answers [by now].”