The application for a proposed charter school that would have replaced recently closed Hartford Public Schools was denied last week, and there has been little conversation about any plans to move forward with the project.
“We haven't talked that much about 'Maybe next year,'” said John Harris, retired Oklahoma and Arkansas educator.
Harris helped with administrative duties for the proposal but said he’s not certain he would be up for another application attempt.
Sugarloaf Valley Academy was one of six proposed schools to have its application denied late last week by the Arkansas Charter Authorizing Panel. While the Arkansas Board of Education makes final decisions on these issues and could overturn the panel’s decision, it is unlikely.
“The State Board often follows the panel’s recommendation; however, the board has reviewed the panel’s decisions in the past,” Kimberly Friedman, Arkansas Department of Education director of communications, wrote in an email.
One of the biggest concerns for the panel about the school was its expected size and financial viability, considering other local districts' students could attend. SVA would have started as a kindergarten through fifth-grade school, gradually expanding to 12th grade over the following four years.
The proposal said the school would have served up to 100 students its first year with a maximum of 300 students attending when at full capacity. According to the panel’s voting sheet, comments from each member cited fiscal apprehensions.
“The other school (Hartford) just closed this year and their position was probably because it closed because of lack of students,” Harris said.
Hartford closed in May with a combined 228 students enrolled at its elementary and high school. It consolidated with Hackett School District in 2014 and was allowed to continue operating at its locations prior to the closure.
“Looking at some of the districts (Hackett, Mansfield, Greenwood) that were mentioned earlier by the representative, there are other good school districts in that area,” Mike Hernandez, state superintendent for coordinated support and service, said at the presentation. “Knowing that recently with the Hartford campus closing, I’m trying to get to the ‘Why’ and the need of the school. Why this school? Why right now?”
Harris said he understood the panel’s concerns about enrollment and classroom innovation, but those involved with the proposal were confident the school could have been successful and helped students on a more individual level.
“They’re the ones that decide, though. We planned on doing that, but they didn’t approve it,” Harris said. “They have a lot of experience with charter schools. I don't have any bone to pick with them.”
The panel also rejected applications for proposed charter schools in Searcy and Pine Bluff.