A new charter school in Atlantic City - approved by the state Department of Education in 2011 but never opened - is now poised to take over the site of the Oceanside Charter School, which will close in June.
But the Atlantic City Community Charter School only has until the end of June to show the state it can be ready to open in September.
The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority on Tuesday approved plans to negotiate a lease agreement with Atlantic City Community Charter School in a move officials said was intended to allow the new school to open by September.
The agreement approved Tuesday is for land on Bacharach Boulevard where Oceanside Charter School is located. The state announced Feb. 28 that it would not renew Oceanside's charter due to poor student performance.
CRDA Executive Director John Palmieri said the board has received assurances that the new school will have all the necessary state approvals to open in September.
"Before there was talk of a lease we wanted to know that they would be good to go with everything they need for this school year. Our understanding is that they're set," Palmieri said.
Fred Scerni, the attorney representing the new charter school, said Tuesday it is also his understanding that the school plans to open in September, but he is only representing them on the land lease.
The new school has already received two extensions from the state, and until Tuesday's CRDA meeting had made no public announcement of its plans to open, and had done no recruiting of staff or students in the city. The only local person listed on the charter's founding board of trustees, Charles Perkins of Pleasantville, is no longer involved in the school, according to his wife. State charter school law requires that local residents be involved as founders of a new school.
Other officials from the proposed school, which is to be managed by CSMI Education Management in Chester, Pa., have not responded to calls or emails from The Press of Atlantic City asking about its status. CSMI operates a large charter school in Chester, Pa., and in March broke ground for a charter school in Camden, which also may open in September.
State regulations require new charter schools to submit a preparedness review plan to the Department of Education by June 30 before a final charter approval is granted by July 15. The plan must provide information on the school's board of trustees, a lease for a facility, certificate of occupancy, organizational chart, budget summary and evidence of at least 90 percent of maximum enrollment.
State officials said earlier this month that the new school had not requested any change in its status and would go through the preparedness review process as required.
The new school's original plan called for it to open with 150 students in grades K-5 then expand to as many as 950 students in grades K-8. Oceanside currently has 380 students in grades K-8, located at both the Bacharach Boulevard site and in a nearby church.
Jeanine Middleton, founder and lead administrator at Oceanside, said until Tuesday she had been making plans to remove the classroom trailers on the site because they had been told by CRDA officials that they wanted the land vacant.
"We were planning to give it back the way we got it," she said.
Todd D'Anna, business manager at Oceanside, said the company it leases the trailers from told him Tuesday it now has someone else interested in the trailers, but that party was not identified.
Middleton said she also got a call Tuesday from Vahan Gureghian, founder and CEO of CSMI, saying he was interested in hiring some of her staff and also asking for her help in setting up a meeting with parents. Middleton said she will cooperate in the interest of the children.
"This is a bitter pill," she said. "But I'll do what I can to be an advocate for the children and the staff."
Parents have been very upset about the closing of Oceanside because state performance reports show the three public schools in the neighborhood rank even lower than the charter school. Middleton said CSMI possibly could enroll all the students it needs right from Oceanside.
Oceanside PTA President Mona Switzer said parents will be willing to listen, but will want more information on just what the new school will offer and assurance that they will be able to meet the state timelines to open in September.
"We don't know anything about this new school and we don't have a lot of time to make a decision," she said when contacted by phone Tuesday.
The CRDA had been leasing the land to Oceanside for $1 per year, but the new agreement with Atlantic City Community Charter School will be for about $50,000 per year, Palmieri said. The amount is based on a recent appraisal.
According to the New Jersey Association of Tax Boards, the property is made up of three lots with a combined assessment of more than $2.4 million.
In June, the CRDA appeared to be ready to provide Oceanside with $1.7 million toward a $21 million permanent facility to be built across from the temporary trailers that have housed the school for 14 years. However, the agenda item was removed the night before the meeting. CRDA officials later said the project needed additional review due to concerns with the schools test scores raised by the state.
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