City Denies Funding for Charter School 

After strong start, the proposed Patrick Henry Charter School hits a speedbump.

A plan by the Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts to seek the city's backing for a bond issuance has been scuttled before launch. The city administration says it won't back the bonds for what is slated to become the city's first charter school.

“The mayor is very supportive of charter schools,” says Tammy Hawley, a spokeswoman for Mayor Dwight C. Jones, but “we have to focus on the projects that are currently in our five-year [capital improvement] plan and we don't have a paper from Patrick Henry that fits into [that] plan.”

Mayor Jones recently announced an aggressive $150 million school construction plan that includes demolishing and rebuilding Huguenot High School, as well as constructing two elementary schools and a middle school. An analysis by school officials indicates the cost of the mayor's proposal to be closer to $175 million.

Patrick Henry's founding board, primarily composed of parents from Forest Hill, now has far less money to with which to work as it struggles to prepare for its July opening. A million-dollar fundraising drive has netted only about $30,000. Though their 2009 goal is a more modest $175,000, school leaders have expressed frustration that large corporate donors haven't stepped forward.

The school also has been approved for two major federal grants that total $571,800 over three years. In addition to aiding with teacher training and paying for an administrator's salary for a few months, some of the money — about $22,000 — is earmarked to bring the school into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, though the school's director of finance, Susan Martin, says that amount falls short of what's needed to pay for all accessibility improvements.

Martin says the city-backed bond issuance was an opportunity to close the fundraising gap quickly. The interest-free bonds would have been issued as part of President Barack Obama's broader package of economic stimulus initiatives.

“It would have been really great,” Martin says of the federal stimulus money, “but we're moving forward.”

Money from the bond issuance primarily would have gone toward energy-efficiency improvements at the school, which is to be housed in the 80-year-old Patrick Henry Elementary School building on Semmes Avenue. The curriculum focus is on green initiatives and conservation, with a planned partnership with the city's recreation department to develop programs using nearby Forest Hill Park.

The school will begin accepting enrollment applications from prospective pupils Dec. 3 and continuing through February. — C.D.


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