Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Charter school fate again in doubt as school district restarts “non-renewal” process

Members of the Harrisburg school board and administration during Monday night’s board meeting.

A Harrisburg charter school is once again in jeopardy, as the city school district is restarting efforts to deny it a charter.

Receiver Dr. Janet Samuels approved a resolution on Monday night that will continue “non-renewal” proceedings against Premier Arts and Science Charter School, located at 500 N. 17th Street.

The district now will hold public hearings on its decision not to grant a renewal, though Samuels did not immediately offer a timeframe for doing so.

“. . . the School District will present evidence in support of the grounds for non-renewal set forth herein, and Premier will be given a reasonable opportunity to present witnesses and evidence in support of its defense,” according to the resolution approved by Samuels.

“Tonight, this meeting, Aug. 19, 2019, this district will commence with the non-renewal proceedings,” she said during Monday’s meeting.

Premier was granted a five-year charter in 2013, which has now expired. Nonetheless, it continues to operate and just opened for the 2019-20 academic year with about 220 students. If the district does refuse to renew the charter, the school could appeal the decision, allowing it to continue to operate during the appeals process.

Last year, the Harrisburg school board indicated that it would not renew the charter and began non-renewal proceedings against Premier. However, those proceedings were stopped and, earlier this year, the board was prepared to vote for a settlement that would have allowed Premier to continue to operate.

Once appointed receiver for the district in June, Samuels halted that settlement and now has restarted the district’s effort to deny Premier a renewal.

In its resolution, the district cites 22 separate reasons for denying the school a charter renewal, alleging procedural, reporting, data and funding issues, as well as alleged academic, achievement and instructional shortfalls.

“This board voted not to renew the charter based on lots of reasons,” Samuels said. “There are mandated reporting pieces that were not adhered to. When you think about, we talked about this at our last meeting, ensuring that clearances were done for staff—not adhered to. And I could go on.”

Also on Monday night, Samuels named Dr. John George, previously the district’s financial recovery plan service director, as the district’s acting superintendent, and named Christopher Celmer, previously the chief operating officer, as the acting assistant superintendent.

In his update on Monday, George went through a list of continuing issues facing the district. He said that the district’s finances are being pieced back together, though he projected that another 30 to 60 days of work remained to have a clear understanding of the budget.

“We’re building a puzzle without knowing what the picture will be like in the end,” he said. “However, it’s coming together.”

The district, he said, needs to close out the 2018-19 school year financially before it can create a firm 2019-20 budget, but “the bills keep coming in,” and they need to be examined and settled.

George also said that personnel records “were in disarray when we inherited them.” Going through them, they found that three support staff members lacked proper clearances and four teachers lacked appropriate certifications, so all were dismissed.

He also reflected on the morning’s faculty and staff convocation, which was held in the auditorium of Harrisburg High School.

“Today was an amazing day, watching all the staff members come back,” he said. “The excitement in the room, the enthusiasm, the sense of renewed hope was clearly, clearly contagious.”

Lastly, he said that the district is ready to start the school year, which begins for students next week.

“Monday is an important day for us, and we’re looking forward to it,” he said.

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