Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Where's church/charter line?

Heidi Magi,  a parent in the UNC Charlotte area,  started digging into information about new charter schools as soon as the state gave preliminary approval in September.  She was delighted to find one scheduled to open at United Wesleyan Church,  near her neighborhood.

But as she read the application for United Community School and checked the web,  she found something puzzling.  Erika Hedgepeth,  named in the application as director of the charter school opening in 2014,  was also director of an existing school at the church,  which seems to be listed as both United Community School and Minds Engaged Christian Academy.  N.C. law allows private schools to apply for conversion to a charter,  which means they get public money instead of relying on tuition or private donations.  But the United Community charter application said it wasn't a conversion.

Magi emailed me wondering what was up.

"Reading the application and the very brief description of the private Christian school,  it looks like these two schools are very much the same school," she wrote.  "I guess I have a broader concern  --  if this ostensibly publicly funded, and therefore secular, school is this closely tied to a religious school, will UCS have a truly secular character?"

It was a great question. 

"Charter schools, as public schools, must meet the state statute which clearly says they are to be nonsectarian,"  says Joel Medley,  director of the N.C. Office of Charter Schools.  "Several charter schools have started in churches to attain a facility for the first year or so.  The religious iconography is to be removed (i.e. purple cloths put over crucifixes in Catholic parishes) in order to meet the tenets of the law.  Proselytizing is not allowed within the classroom."

Medley noted that both the current school run by Hedgepeth and her proposed charter school center on the Basic School method developed by the late educator Ernest Boyer.  It's a non-religious approach that focuses on parent-teacher partnership and seven core virtues,  and it's already in use at Community School of Davidson and Corvian Community School,  charters in northern Mecklenburg County.  The state's charter school advisory board noted the link to the church school and made sure United Community's board understood the need to be  "a separate and totally secular institution,"  Medley added.

I spoke with Hedgepeth last week,  while reporting a story on new charters.  She said she and her husband came across the Basic School model while looking for the best way to educate their own children.  She opened the small church-based school  --  it currently has 16 students, she said  --  while working toward a charter.  She hopes to have about 200 K-2 students in August,  eventually expanding to about 650 in K-8.  The school will incorporate her family's love of the arts,  she said,  with piano theory taught to all students.

I also looped back to Magi.  She had talked with Hedgepeth and liked what she heard.  Magi plans to enter her rising first-grade son in the lottery for United Community School and Pioneer Springs Community School,  a nearby private school that also uses the Basic School model and just got permission to convert to a charter.  

It's a textbook example of what parents need to do these days,  as choices and changes abound.  Magi read up on options,  delved into details,  made connections,  asked smart questions  --  and followed up with personal contact.  Her experiences,  and those of hundreds of other families out there making similar searches,  can help us all figure out how the rapidly changing world of public education is working.  Please share your questions,  comments and observations as the choice season progresses.


Wiley Coyote said...

Is Project LIFT "truly secular" with the involvement of churches/religious groups in the process, especially Sisters of Mercy and Friendship Missionary Baptist Church?

We're surely publicly funding CMS/LIFT.

Perhaps we shouldn't allow any tax dollars to go to charters or traditional public schools run by churches or involvement by any religious group, no matter how noble their intent is.

Anonymous said...

Parents are looking for a school where there child won't be lost in process. To have a personal connection with the staff, and the ability to talk to the teacher on a daily basis if needed is invaluable. You don't get anything close to that at CMS. The teachers are overloaded with too many students, and bureaucratic paperwork and nonsense, along with the constantly changing curriculum and other "programs".

Anonymous said...

Quote from woman from Sleeping Bus driver story -

"County wide magnet programs are entitled to transportation. Magnet parents choose the school therefore 20 miles is a choice, not seen as ridiculous".

I couldn't disagree more. The reason for the ridiculous school times is BECAUSE of the magnet school transportation system and the complexity of it. Magnet transportation costs 3-4 times what it costs to send a student to their neighborhood school. Magnet parents should absolutely be sharing in some of those costs.

At least with Charter schools, the school times and other important school decisions are not based on bus schedules.

Wiley Coyote said...


Show me the breakdown of the costs.

Also, CMS already cut back magnet transportation costs by implementing drop points.

The magnet transportation argument is like a car dealer telling you he will show you the invoice on a car you want to buy.

What he doesn't show you are the incentives and billbacks he gets as a dealer that are not passed on to the consumer and don't show up on that invoice.

Data can be spun any way you want it to be.

There are just as many buses traveling over 5 miles within home-school boundaries wasting just as much fuel.

Take some time, pull up the home school boundaries, especially high school and measure the distances from the outer boundaries.

We can also propose that no child ride a bus if they live within two miles of a school.

With the changing landscape of public education and its last gasp attempt to stay relevant, magnets and special program schools will only increase.

In the end, it's all PUBLIC education.

Shamash said...


I think one transportation "solution" might be the SCHOOL PRIVATE LIGHT BUSes as used in Hong Kong, also known as "nanny vans".

It's basically smaller vans following a fixed route just for school kids.

It almost makes too much sense, though, for us to consider it.

We like those big buses that take an hour to fill, if we can fill them.

Daddy Daycare said...

Shamash, that would make too much sense, Using smaller buses to pick up smaller loads of students?

Why does CMS send 2 full sized buses (empty) to my far south charlotte neighborhood to pick up a few kids (3 total), and a handful more on their way to Magnet schools 17miles and 22 miles away (while our local elem school is one of the highest rated in CMS)? When I spoke with Ms. Stamper (CMS trans dept) a couple of years ago, she told me that the Magnet bus routes are very complex and they cannot adjust other school start times due to the Magnet school bus schedules. It was also in the CO that the Magnet busing costs 3-4X what neighborhood busing costs.

Wiley, I'm sure someone at the CMS transportation dept would be happy to educate you and show you the breakdown of costs and particulars.

Anonymous said...

We do not have to worry about religion at our CMS schools, they are too busy indoctrinating the kids.

Bolyn McClung said...


There is at least one School Board member who believes making schools available to newly formed churches is critical to the survival of those places of worship. I support that opinion.

However the classic modern Lemon test for separation of church and state doesn’t. It reads …”principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion;…” It’s called the lemon test because it comes from the case Lemon v. Kurtzman. There are two other parts to the test but this is the part that applies here.

The danger in mixing Charters and religious schools is what is known as “excessive government entanglement with religion.” That happens when states or local governments try to issue guidelines. That’s just not possible when a Constitutional No means No.

Bolyn McClung

Wiley Coyote said...

Daddy Daycare...

CMS will also tell you 54% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, which is incorrect.

It's just a number they have but have no clue as to whether it's correct.

I believe we can cut many neighborhood school bus routes and save even more money so the magnet issue is no more egregious than buses traveling 5 to 7 miles one way in a home school zone. They are all wasting fuel.

Also, if you believe everything the Charlotte Observer writes, I have some prime real estate right off Freedom Drive I'd love to sell you.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe these parents are asking nearly enough questions. I think I'd be asking about the Director's experience and qualifications. Running a school of 16 students is VERY different than 650. I'd also ask for the qualifications of her husband, who the Church's website identifies as co-Director.

I really think they'll give a Charter to just about anyone. Scary stuff.

Anonymous said...

Ann promised she would do more stories on Charter Schools. So if you have something like this on Charter Schools, be sure to let her know.

Anonymous said...

OH that Church and separation thing, why do so many African American Churches has Political Action Committees and yet nothing is ever said about them.

I am sure Ann has been to many Churches that have had meetings to change things in Government. Now how is that funded again?

Anonymous said...

Republicans love to shovel tax dollars into church coffers.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:23 pm.

Oh come on, surely you know by now that minorities are exempt from rules and regulations.

Just ask the DOJ.

If minorities break the rules, it's because the rules are bad.

It's called disparate impact.

Wiley Coyote said...

Democrats love to shovel tax dollars into income redistribution coffers.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for expanding the No Transportation zone. And how about not driving around entire neighborhoods, just having one or two central stops. Many students who are assigned to buses never ride them so there is a lot of room for more efficiency and improvement all over the trans system.

Shamash said...

Where's church/charter line?

As long as we're talking about the "right" church, I'm sure everything's fine, but...

I'm pretty sure the buck stops here:

"Largest charter network in US schools tied to Turkey"


Of course, that could never happen HERE.

But who are these Turkish guys in Raleigh:

"Triad Math and Science Academy (TMSA)"


Susan Plaza said...

Magnet busing costs 3-4 times what neighborhood busing does. While there may be a few home school routes traveling 5 miles, those buses are full. Magnet buses average less than 20 kids on a bus that can hold 50 or more. Some buses are transporting 1 or 2 kids! Shuttle stops do save money but less than 1/3 of magnet students are assigned to one. Magnet bus runs also are much longer. The longest home high school run is 30 minutes, the longest magnet run is 90 minutes. This equals increased costs in driver time, fuel, oil, tires etc. Bringing magnet bus costs closer to neighborhood costs is a necessary step to eliminate the 4:15 bell schedule.

Wiley Coyote said...

Bringing magnet bus costs closer to neighborhood costs is a necessary step to eliminate the 4:15 bell schedule


The time is the time is the time and the bus runs on the same route regardless of when the bell rings.

I see half empty school buses in my neighborhood all the time. When my son rode the bus in middle school and the first year of high school, his bus was only about 60% capacity or less most of the time.

If you're so concerned about transportation costs, direct your anger towards the free bus rides coming up for the new CPCC high schools to the tune of $40,000 per year.

By the way, voters approved $5.5 million to build these two schools. The same voters who also pay taxes that support magnet schools.

The middle college schools provide more flexible schedules and a college setting, with easier access to CPCC instruction. The plan calls for CMS to spend $40,000 a year in county money to provide bus passes so students can get there.

The farthest boundary for Olympic is right at 9 miles. The southern most boundary for North Meck is 7 miles away and this same point is only about 1.5 miles to West Charlotte. So why aren't the students who live 2 miles or less from West Charlotte being bused to North Meck?

I like to see your full school buses make the 6 to 7 mile routes dropping off all the kids in 30 minutes.

The distances I posted are as the crow flies so the actual route(s) are probably longer.

Have you ever stopped to consider that CMS has such a screwed up boundary system that it contributes to transportation issues?

Shamash said...

Sounds like Hong Kong has the answer.

Nanny vans.

Smaller vans for fewer kids on longer hauls. More efficient.

We could call them Magnet Vans if that would help.

It sounds better than short bus.

Wiley Coyote said...


Don't confuse an educrat with logic and common sense.

Their head will explode.

Shamash said...


Well, yeah.

I guess I shouldn't expect much innovation in school transportation.

After all, the typical school bus doesn't look much different from the one my great aunt drove back in the 1960's.

And judging from how many of them can't start in the cold, I'd say they still have some room for improvement, though.

Anonymous said...

Wiley, I love you but you are wrong on the Magnet bus issue. Please don't try to convince the rest of us of the great efficiencies of the program. It's just not true, feel free to contact CMS transportation department for the correct numbers.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 7:30

I wouldn't trust one number coming from CMS as a whole or the transportation department.

Also, your comment is "strange" in that I am NOT trying to convince you of efficiencies because there aren't any efficiencies.

Whether it costs .5% more, 10% more or whatever number you want to put on it for magnet transportation, it doesn't matter in the current system.

Again, for the umpteenth time, if CMS offers magnets as part of the education experience, then they should provide the same transportation provided for any other programs; those at CPCC or traditional neighborhood schools.

Also, we can cut out a lot of waste in neighborhood school routes as well. I don't seem to hear anyone else bringing that fact up.

Anonymous said...

I would like to mention that the comment "they'll give a charter to just about anyone" is completely false. I have a close friend here in North Carolina who has recently gone through the process of applying for a charter, and it is a rigorous and exhaustive process. NOTHING is left to chance - all conceivable details relating to the conception and operation of an school must be addressed intelligently and articulately. AND the school board must be sufficiently impressed with your presentation, experience, and model to even be granted an interview. After that step, the research gets even more complex and the specifics/legalities must be researched even more thoroughly. I now know much more about the process and am so pleased there are educators who care enough to jump through the innumerable hoops, let alone to run the school if given a charter. Kudos to the charter directors who get approved.

CSMC said...

CSMC is the largest provider of back office services to charter schools in the nation, with more than 50 employees 135 schools
throughout the country.
Visit : Charter School Management

Anonymous said...

My son has gone to a charter school that is Ran by the Mormons and the majority of the students are Mormon. This school is one of the best in the area that I live in and there is a 3 yr waiting list to get in unless you live in that school district( But there schools are the only in that school district) My son is Black and has gone to school with these children fro 6 years now. Last year I noticed some changes in attitude and I honestly fill that it's because of 2 reasons; 1. He started looking more like a Black man rather than a black boy and 2. They realized that he had goals of going to college. It's strange how things can change within a blink of and eye with these people my son who has always gotten pretty good grades came home hot as a firecracker a few weeks ago when report cards came out, he admitted that he has to bring his grades up and work harder ( he also plays sports at the school) but, he also said that a lot of his Mormon friends who are dumb as... got A's in these classes. Last year I had a discussion with my son re: changing schools and he told me that I was just being racist and not to start anything but now I know what I saw was true. My question is what would you do in this situation without it hurting your child and his future? He is in his senior year now and wanted to graduate with his class.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Is this school in our area? I've never heard of a Mormon-run charter in the Charlotte area.