Put on hold: Charter school decision delayed

BLACKFOOT — The Blackfoot School Board of Trustees postponed a decision to accept or deny a petition for the Idaho STEM Academy, a proposed charter high school, after a public hearing Thursday night.
The board was divided on all motions—the first to approve the charter, the second to allow 60 days to address legal issues with the charter and the last to refer the decision to the state Charter School Commission. Trustees Pete Lipovac and Jenny Hong voted in favor of the charter school, with Mary Jo Marlow and R. Scott Reese voting in favor of referring the decision to the state Public Charter School Commission. Trustee Bryce Lloyd was excused from the meeting.
The proposed Idaho STEM Academy would focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. They hope to partner with universities to offer dual-credit courses, potentially allowing students to graduate from high school with a large portion of their college general education credits completed.
In addressing the board, Mark Fisk, a member of the founding board of the Idaho STEM Academy, said they would like the school board to authorize the charter to enable them to have a local relationship with an elected board.
“We are local people trying to do something here for our local community,” Fisk said. “We want to have a relationship with an authorizing agency that is local and that we can work with.”
Superintendent Scott Crane said the decision of the board should come down to whether they want to assume the liability of the charter school. He also said the district already offers many of the things proposed at the charter school, including dual-credit classes, and that they can still work together if the district refers the decision to the state charter commission.
Crane said the district’s attorney reviewed the charter and identified seven concerns that will need to be negotiated with the charter board.
Fisk said those legal concerns had not been revealed to the founding board, and they are willing to negotiate to have the petition approved locally.
The decision by the school board to table the decision prevents the petition from being submitted to the state Public Charter School Commission for approval. But Fisk is optimistic that in the next 30 days they can work out some of the issues and bring the item back before a full board at the October school board meeting. The petition needs to be approved by Jan. 1 for the school to open in the fall of 2012.
“We didn’t have the votes—yet,” Fisk said.
Also at the meeting, the board approved several changes to Board Policy 510 regarding foreign students. Among the changes include the acceptance of foreign exchange students from all grade levels, the elimination of an additional $200 fee and the ability of foreign exchange students to graduate from the Blackfoot School District.
The board also recognized the achievements of Fort Hall Elementary for earning the State Board of Education’s Additional Yearly Growth Award and Blackfoot High School for earning the Distinguished Schools Award for 2011.