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Officials delay start of online charter school



Published: Sat, August 3, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The head of Ohio's latest statewide cyber school said developing the programs is time-consuming.

By RON COLE

VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Complications with the application process and funding have prompted Mahoning County education officials to delay the opening of its Internet charter school until January.

The school, called the Mahoning County Unlimited Classroom and designed to compete with a slew of statewide online charter schools, was to open at the start of this school year in September.

"Obviously, when you're talking about the education of a child, as critical as that is, we're not going to open the doors until we're ready to offer the quality education that we know we can," said Bill Hyde, superintendent of the Mahoning County Educational Service Center.

The ESC announced plans in the spring to open a charter school that would provide home-based instruction over the Internet to Mahoning County pupils.

At the time, Ohio had three statewide Internet charter schools enrolling about 114 Mahoning County pupils.

Two additional statewide online charter schools will open this fall.

The schools receive about $5,000 in state and local funds for each pupil.

If those pupils would enroll in a locally operated online school, funding now going to the statewide Internet schools would stay in Mahoning County.

Pleased with response

Hyde said that the response to the initiative has been amazing and that he expects the school, which will enroll about 50 pupils, will have a waiting list.

"I have little doubt that we will fill our target," he said.

He said many details in setting up the school, including a requirement to have a separate governing board, have delayed the opening.

Money also has become a stumbling block. The amount of start-up funds available from the state for new charter schools has dropped from $50,000 to about $20,000, Hyde said.

In addition, the federal government is now requiring charter schools to compete for $150,000 in federal start-up money.

"We were looking at a much larger pot to start the initiative," he said. "That has been reduced dramatically."

Don Musick is superintendent of Ohio's latest statewide online charter school, the Virtual Community School of Ohio, which opens this school year. He said he can sympathize with Hyde.

"I don't see how you can plan one of these schools in a three- or four-month period," he said.

Lots of work

"We've been at it for 18 months. I'll be quite honest with you, we roll our sleeves up every day and we're really trying to do it right, but it's going right down to the wire as far as getting it together."

He added: "When you look at it as a broad concept it appears like, 'Well sure, we can do that.' But, when you start breaking it down and getting into all of the micro details, it's amazing the things that have to happen if you want to do it right."

Charter schools are publicly funded, tuition-free schools that operate independent of local school boards. Ohio has more than 70 such schools, including six in Youngstown.

cole@vindy.com




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