Prince George’s board of education delays vote on charter school lease

The Prince George’s County Board of Education delayed a vote on whether to allow a charter school operated by Imagine Foundation to lease a vacant elementary school owned by the school system for the 2014 school year.

The decision came after impassioned pleas were made by parents asking the board to deny the request from Imagine Leeland Public Charter School, which is based in an Upper Marlboro church, to move to Berkshire Elementary School in Forrestville.

Parents complained that they were not given sufficient notice about the move to what some considered to be an unsafe neighborhood. Parents said they are happy with the education their children are receiving at Leeland, but might have considered other options if they knew the school would be moving to Forrestville. They criticized school officials for not making the decision public until after the county’s specialty and charter school lotteries closed, leaving them no other choice on where to send their child to school next year.

Imagine officials apologized for the short notice parents were given. They said they were working on getting the charter renewal approved by the board while negotiating with its current landlord about making changes to their lease.

“We did not want to prematurely put information out,” said Shawn Toler, the regional director for Imagine Schools.

Under the agreement, Imagine would pay the school system $222,000 in the first year of a three-year lease. Imagine has a lease with the school system to operate Imagine Morningside in one of the school district’s buildings.

Toler said Imagine Leeland needs a new location so it can provide its 470 students the best education possible. Edward Green, the board chairman for Imagine Leeland, said the school, which has operated in the county for seven years, needs a permanent home.

Toler said that the charter does not have adequate bandwidth to test students “effectively” at its current location at St. Barnabas Church. Internet providers have estimated it would cost $75,000 to $150,000 for service to the building, Imagine officials said.

The charter school has limited space and restricted use of the building, which has placed “limitations on its academic achievements and programs,” Toler said.

At Berkshire, the charter could serve up to 600 students. The school has turn-key broadband. And Imagine would have greater use of the Berkshire building.

“We don’t disagree that we need to find another location,” one parent said. “We disagree on the location that they have chosen.”

The board opted to table the lease agreement with Imagine Foundation until its next meeting in two weeks.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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