By Tina Ray/ParaglideMarch 16, 2012
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Fort Bragg leaders and school officials met Friday with members of the Romine Group, a Michigan-based educational management services company, to discuss the possibility of bringing a charter school to the installation. Separate meetings were held at the Morales School Age Services Center and at Tolson Youth Activities Center, and were open to interested parents, both on and off post.
The Romine Group officials defined a charter school as a tuition-free, public school. The school operates under charter or license with the state board of education or an institution of higher learning such as the University of North Carolina or its affiliates or a local education district, said Angela Romanowski, a spokesperson for the Romine Group and principal of a Michigan elementary school.
Though charter schools receive public money, they have more freedom than traditional schools in terms of innovation and employment and also function with its own school board.
Based upon current population, Fort Bragg has about 500 students in the cantonment area who could qualify for charter school placement, said Col. Stephen Sicinski, Fort Bragg Garrison commander.
Placement would first go to military-connected Families living on post, military-connected Families off post and then to the general population, Sicinski said. Slots would always be reserved for Families who are permanently changing station to Fort Bragg. In some cases, students such as rising juniors and seniors already at county schools of choice could choose to remain at those schools rather than attend a charter school.
According to officials, if a charter school has more applicants than available slots, an open lottery must be instituted to fill those remaining seats.
The first course of action would be to determine the size of the charter school and then work forward, but a pre-cleared, 74-acre site on Vass Road, just north of Little River and almost an equal distance between Fort Bragg and Linden Oaks would be the school's site, said Sicinski.
For one parent, a charter school on Fort Bragg is an idea whose time has come.
"I feel like with our own school board, we set our own rules as a community and I like that idea," said Audra Spaulding, an Army spouse and the parent of an eighth grader.
"I really, really want them to build a high school on base. I don't want my child going off post," she said.
Any charter school would have to meet state standards of accountability, Romanowski said. She told parents that all teachers in charter schools are certified and highly qualified.
A charter school, Romanowski said, could accommodate issues such as credit transfers, impact aid (designed to assist schools financially that are impacted by military-connected populations) and could meet the needs of a diverse cultural population.
The process for getting a charter school established on the installation is less strenuous than getting one through Cumberland County schools. According to Sicinksi, Fort Bragg would not need congressional approval, but would go through an assistant secretary of the Army for approval.
If anything, a charter school would alleviate the stress of overpopulation at a school such as Overhills High School, he said. "This is not an indictment, but an opportunity to meet existing needs."
"We're not trying to cause damage for any local school agency, but we're trying to meet the needs of the community," said Romanowski.
The state Board of Education approved applications in March to open nine charter schools in August, she said. A charter school that wants to open by August 2013 must have an application filed by April 13.
"We lose nothing by putting in an application by 13 April," Sicinski said.
Although the concept of charter schools on military installations is not a new one, Fort Bragg would be the first to have a charter high school, said Romanowski. It would be "trendsetting."
Currently, there are several charter schools on Air Force and Navy installations across the United States.
Lt. Col. Scott Naumann of the 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, said he wanted to help expedite that trend.
"We're interested in the future here. If there's anyway we can influence the future education here and what seems to be a great need in this community, we want to be a part of that," he said.
The next Fort Bragg charter high school sensing session is March 24, at 10 a.m., at the Tolson Youth Activities Center gym.
In addition to the interest meetings, Fort Bragg officials are circulating a survey to gauge parents' interest in establishing a high school on the installation. To complete the survey, visit http://www.zoomerang.com/Survey/WEB22EZD2FBVP3. The link may also be accessed through the Fort Bragg and the Fort Bragg Paraglide Facebook pages.