For months, the proposed PA STEAM Academy has been waiting for a date to take its case before the state’s Charter School Appeal Board.
It appears the proposed charter school’s supporters now will need to wait even longer.
At Monday night’s school board meeting, Harrisburg school district Receiver Dr. Janet Samuels approved a resolution starting the district’s own appeal, specifically an appeal of a lower court’s approval of signatures supporting the proposed school.
On Aug. 2, Dauphin County Judge John McNally issued an order stating that PA STEAM had collected enough valid signatures so that the proposed school could now move forward with mounting an appeal to the state Charter School Appeal Board.
“The required number of signatures (1,000) were properly obtained and presented to the Court . . . ,” McNally wrote in his decision.
Samuels now is appealing that decision to the Commonwealth Court. Asked about the issue on Monday night, Samuels declined comment.
However, during the meeting, she said that the Harrisburg district stood ready to compete with charter schools, and she even encouraged district parents with children in brick-and-mortar and cyber charter schools to consider returning to the Harrisburg school system.
“I want to be very clear about, here in the Harrisburg school district, we are ready in a very bold and courageous way [to compete] with all charter schools in this area,” Samuels said.
Reached by phone on Tuesday morning, Dr. Carolyn Dumaresq, chair of the PA STEAM Academy’s board of directors, said that she was disappointed with Samuels’ action.
“It’s kind of a mystery to me that the receiver says she wants to compete with charter schools, but then doesn’t allow any to open,” said Dumaresq, who served as state secretary of education under former Gov. Tom Corbett.
In fact, PA STEAM had submitted petitions with 1,844 signatures, far exceeding the 1,000-signature threshold, making it unlikely that the district’s appeal will succeed, she said.
“To challenge the signatures—isn’t there a better use of taxpayer money?” she said.
Originally, PA STEAM Academy had hoped to open for the 2019-20 school year in the building now known as HACC Midtown 2, previously the Evangelical Press Building, at N. 3rd and Reily streets.
However, in February, the Harrisburg school board unanimously denied their charter application. Charter school supporters then collected signatures as a first step in the appeals process. With the petitions approved by McNally, school founders believed that they were free to continue their appeal to the state Department of Education’s Charter School Appeal Board.
PA STEAM Academy now must mount another hurdle—defending their signatures before the Commonwealth Court.
“You would have to prove that these people (who signed the petitions) don’t live in the city, and they do,” Dumaresq said. “It seems like just more delay. It’s sad.”
Dumaresq said that PA STEAM now hopes to open in time for the 2020-21 school year. The founders envision starting with 120 students in a K-2 school, adding a grade level each year until it becomes a K-8 school.
“I think this appeal is such a misuse of taxpayer money,” she said. “But are what are you going to do?”