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Charter school renewal discussed


Special to The Press

The renewal of the Circle of Seasons charter school’s charter was the primary point of discussion at the June 2 Northwestern Lehigh School Board workshop.

During the opening courtesy of the floor, Kimberly Heiman, board president at Circle of Seasons, and Alison Saeger, CEO and principal, thanked the school board for discussing their school’s renewal application.

Superintendent Jennifer Holman said the board will cast a final decision on the charter renewal at its June 16 meeting.

She noted a charter renewal request was written by the charter school Aug. 19, 2020, and that in response, Northwestern Lehigh formed an administrative team to carry out a comprehensive review of the request.

Holman said the team reviewed criteria set forth in the charter school law about whether the school board may choose to renew a charter, and also looked at several specific factors.

These factors include whether there was one or more “material violations of the conditions, standards, procedures contained in the existing charter,” Circle of Seasons failed to meet any requirements for student performance or any generally-accepted standards of fiscal or audit management, whether the school had committed fraud, or if any violations of charter school law or federal student disability law had occurred.

Holman added that detailed questions and a request for documentation had been sent to Circle of Seasons in September 2020, and the charter school had not only answered all questions but also submitted substantial documentation for district review.

She also said the administration team had conducted an on-site visit April 16, where an annual on-site human resources document audit was also performed along with classroom observations, and interviews with school employees and parents.

Holman said based on the responses, interviews and documentation, Northwestern Lehigh administration recommended renewal of the Circle of Seasons’ charter, and a renewal document will be prepared for the June 16 meeting.

In response to a question from board President Willard Dellicker, Holman said the renewal was for a five-year period, and was the third overall renewal for the charter school.

Dellicker said the criteria Holman described “were kind of generalized in saying there were no failures.”

“[Is there] anything that tells us a little bit more about the quality of those areas?” Dellicker asked.

Holman responded by stating the administration had “good conversations” during the on-site visit and while reviewing documents.

She added Northwestern Lehigh continues to have a relationship to provide assistance to Circle of Seasons whenever necessary.

Holman also said the district has a vested interest in ensuring the charter school remains successful.

“Because we have a vested interest in the students who attend there and they are being successful, and they like coming to school and the school they attend is providing them the education they need, and they deserve, and they are entitled to.”

Some board members asked about summer activities or programs.

Saeger said Circle of Seasons has a short summer, as the school starts during the second week of August, but several summer programs were planned.

These include an extended school year program and tutoring program for students, a continuation of Circle of Seasons’ online programs from the previous school year and a ReadyRosie program for families and parents.

In other business, Business Administrator Leslie Frisbie provided a brief overview of the 2021-22 final district budget, which will be approved by the board June 16.

Frisbie said there had been no significant changes since May but there were minor changes to revenues and expenditures, which have resulted in a net reduction to the shortfall of $104,000.

The budget includes estimated revenues totaling $46,414,373 and estimated expenditures totaling $48,622,999.

Also included is a proposed 3 percent millage increase of 0.5165 mill, the maximum of the Act 1 Index, to raise $859,000.

The new 2021-22 millage rate will be 17.7360 mills.

The changes leave a revised shortfall of $1,349,626, which will be covered by a use of the district’s fund balance.

Additionally, Director of Curriculum and Instruction LeAnn Stitzel provided an overview of federal grant opportunities for the board to act on during the next meeting.

She said these grant opportunities were an annual item, and that permission would be sought to apply for Title I, Title IIA and Title IV Federal Grant opportunities for the 2021-22 school year.

Preliminary expected amounts for Northwestern Lehigh include $210,004 under Title I, $45,891 for Title IIA and $13,215 for Title IV.

Stitzel also said the district would decline Title III funding for the 2021-22 school year, adding this funding has been declined since 2011-12.

She stated Title III funding was strictly for English language learning and was declined due to being a limited amount of money, and because accepting Title III funding would require the district to take part in a consortium with the intermediate unit.

The board also retroactively approved an agreement with Elk Environmental Services for providing emergency response services during a mercury spill in a high school science lab.

Operations Director Arthur Oakes said the spill had been quickly contained and safely cleaned up with no contamination concerns.

The board will next meet 7 p.m. June 16.