On Tuesday, July 14th, the Connecticut State Board of Education (“Board”) held its monthly meeting virtually in light of COVID-19. The recommendation for 1-year extensions for most charter schools, as well as a material change to the charter for Stamford Charter School for Excellence, were items on this agenda. This meeting was televised and is available on-demand online here. The meeting agenda and submitted public comment can be found here.
The agenda included:
- Approval of a material change to the charter for Stamford Charter School for Excellence
- Charter Renewal Period Extensions
- Connecticut’s Plan for School Fall Reopening in light of COVID-19
- Unanimous approval of a limited waiver from the 180-day requirement for “unavoidable emergency” of up to 3 days due to COVID-19
- Appointments to the Educator Preparation Provider Program Approval Review Committee
- A Report on Student Participation in Distance Learning
Public comment focused on the fall reopening guidance for schools and the Stamford Excellence material change. All public comment on the school expressed support for the material change. When discussing school reopening, community members expressed both support for and opposition to the proposed full fall reopening of schools in the state.
The State Department of Education proposed and the Board unanimously approved a one-year extension to the charter renewal terms for eighteen of the state’s public charter schools, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on schools. The full list of schools can be found in a table here. This means that there are no renewals slated for 2021, with renewals resuming in 2022 and subsequent years. Because this item was on the consent agenda, as was the appointments to the Educator Prep Provider Program Approval Review Committee, there were no discussions on these items.
The State Board approved an amended material change to Stamford Excellence’s charter.
Stamford Charter School for Excellence, which, as of the 19-20 school year, is a PreK-5 public charter school serving 392 students, sought to continue serving students through the middle school grades to a total enrollment of 560 seats and obtain an additional school building to accommodate enrollment.
Due to what the Department stated was a lack of financial viability, it proposed to the Board a material change granting the expansion of Stamford Excellence into a PreK-8, but with an unchanged total enrollment of 392. This would mean that its 19-20 PreK-5 students would become K-6 students in 20-21, then 1-7 in 21-22, and so forth. This means that Stamford Excellence would not serve the full PK-8 spectrum of students as three grades will be vacant in any given year. In response to the question around how this arrangement would work with staff and teachers, the principal noted that the school is prepared to be flexible and nimble and do what is needed to operate the school with these parameters. The proposed material change also permits the school to acquire an additional school building to serve those students.
During a lengthy and at times complex Board discussion, Board members expressed concern with approving the expansion of grades without the funding being appropriated with concerns of setting a precedent to pre-approve grades prior to approved funding.
The Department noted that other public charter schools were still growing out and needed seats as well. The principal and parent representative spoke to the exceptional academic performance of the school and desire to continue serving the students currently in the school. The Chief Financial Officer stated that the financial allocation for the school has been capped at 392, and after discussions with the state and the Office of Policy and Management that the cap would need to remain in place for the foreseeable future, and SDE’s legal counsel stated that the 392 cap was approved as part of the 2020 renewal.
After this extended discussion, the Board decided to table the proposal to address the rest of the agenda. When the Board came back to the proposal, it voted to deny an enrollment increase beyond 392 seats, it voted to approve an expansion into Grade 6 for 20-21 at a fixed enrollment of 392 seats, granted the acquisition of an additional school building. The sole no vote was Board Member Karen Dubois-Walton, who voted in the negative after she expressed concern about not also approving the 7th and 8th grade, which she said she felt was important to provide consistency and predictability, particularly for the parents and families attending the school. To learn more about this vote, click here.
As we expect the special legislative session to convene as early as next week, we will continue to provide you with updates as they become available.