Souderton Rejects Charter School School Board Members Said There Were Too Many Unknowns In The Plan.

Posted: December 19, 1997

HARLEYSVILLE — The Souderton Area school board unanimously rejected a charter-school application last night, capping a two-month-long battle to create the school.

Voting 8-0, board members said that there were too many unanswered questions about the school and that the curriculum did not differ substantially from what the district already offers.

``The bottom line is, I just think there were too many unknowns,'' said board member Lucy Ruth. ``They say they'll do a better job, but I think that has to be proven first.''

Under current law, an appeal of the decision will not be heard before June 1999. Wendy Ormsby, who wrote the proposal that would have created a kindergarten-to-fifth-grade school for 64 children, was in Harrisburg on Wednesday hoping to persuade legislators to amend the charter-school law to provide a quicker appeals process.

Ormsby met with State Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R., Dauphin) about shortening the moratorium on appeals. Piccola's chief of staff, David Transue, said Piccola was looking into the possibility of drafting a bill shortening the moratorium.

Encouraged by her meeting with the senator, Ormsby said her chances of speeding up an appeal were improving: ``Yesterday morning I would have said one in 100, now I would have to say 50-50.''

The leading proponent of the 18-month moratorium on appeals has been the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. Curt Rose, an assistant executive director there said that PSBA would continue to fight against making an appeal more accessible.

``We feel that the local board has the responsibility of financing the school, and they should also have the responsibility of approving or not approving it. Someone else should not have the ability to impose that on them.''

The Souderton school board drew fire from charter-school proponents when a statement of reasons to reject the school was mistakenly mailed to Ormsby by the office of the district's solicitor, Jeffrey Sultanik, a week before the board was legally entitled to make a decision.

Both board President Richard Swartley and Sultanik said the rejection was a draft of a potential response and had not been requested by the board.

Ormsby yesterday reiterated her complaint that the board never fairly considered the application.

``District officials showed a blatant disrespect for the law and blatant disrespect for community members throughout this process,'' Ormsby said.

Swartley disagreed: ``It's just that when we didn't agree on something, then we didn't have an open mind.''

Attorneys for the charter-school group have said they are considering legal action against the district for violating the state's open-meeting laws as well as the charter-school law.

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