The Cherry Hill, Voorhees, Lawnside and Somerdale School Districts continue to wait for a ruling from the state Department of Education on whether it will allow Regis Academy Charter School to open its doors this fall.
In March, the Cherry Hill School District requested a reconsideration to grant the charter to Regis, which would open on the former Holy Rosary site at 99 Burnt Mill Road, near the Cherry Hill/Voorhees border.
The Solid Rock Worship Center currently rents the land from the diocese, with the intent to open the charter school on the site.
Last week, Pastor Amir Khan, who leads Solid Rock and the charter school, said he was ready to make settlement with the diocese on the property. He said one company has begun working on appraising the buildings.
The appeal was pending in the Superior Court of New Jersey–appellate division, until Chris Cerf, acting commissioner of Education, asked to have control of the decision given to him, which was granted by the court, said Susan Bastnagel, the Cherry Hill School District Public Information Officer.
Earlier this month, Bastnagel said, a letter was sent from the state’s charter school office to Khan, letting him know his application was being reviewed by the state.
“As you know, Acting Commissioner Cerf has been granted jurisdiction over the Voorhees and Cherry Hill appeal of Regis Academy Charter School. We are currently in the process of reviewing the documents, and subsequently your application and addenda. Numerous issues and inaccuracies have been brought to our attention regarding the school’s application and addenda,” said Amy Ruck, interim director, Office of Charter Schools, in her letter to Khan.
Among those issues for the school districts involved, Bastnagel said, is that Solid Rock does not own the buildings and continues to rent the property from the Diocese.
A second question, she said, is an issue of church and state. The district feels public taxpayer money should not go toward acquiring religious property.
“If Solid Rock had independent means to purchase the building, it would have done so by now,” she said.
The third issue for the districts is based on the number of students who will go to the school and what each school district is asked to contribute.
Regis Academy’s goal was to have 250 students from the four sending districts, or at least 90 percent, registered for the 2012-2013 school year.
As of the June 11 enrollment report, 22 students from Cherry Hill, 14 from Voorhees, 13 from Somerdale and 29 from Lawnside have registered to start attending Regis this fall, Bastnagel said.
Khan said, as of June 21, he has 267 students registered and on the waiting list, with about half the students coming from the four original districts, and the other half from out-of-district.
Later this week, Regis Academy is expected to receive a DOE readiness visit, one more step in the process to opening school doors this fall.
At the meeting, Khan may have to prove that enrollment requirements have been met.
In total, 78 students from the four original sending districts have signed up for the school. Another 187 students from other districts, including some from Lindenwold, Sicklerville and Camden, have also registered to attend Regis. Altogether, students from 21 other local districts applied to start at the charter school this fall.
Khan said he anticipates a positive review from the DOE later this week.
“When you study charter schools, even in cities and urban areas, people have concerns,” Khan said. “The DOE expects that and understands this.”
The school districts involved have taken action against the charter school, but so have residents.
Rita McClellan of Cherry Hill sent testimony to the State Board of Education on June 6, pointing out that the charter school should only be allowed to draw students from the four original sending districts.
“During last night’s Regis Board of Trustees meeting, the administrative principal stated that, besides the four originally approved sending districts, they will be drawing students from 14 other school districts. Some of the new, but unapproved, sending districts will be from locations such as Evesham, Camden, Mt. Holly, Erial, Deptford and Williamstown. According to current charter rules, a charter must draw students from contiguous districts. The last time I checked a map, most of these locations were not adjacent to the original sending districts,” McClellan said. “This is not fair because many of these districts have already established their budgets for the next school year.”
The school districts have set aside funding for the number of students the DOE asked for each district allocate for in the budget. If Regis opens and fewer students attend than what districts set aside, those enrollments will be reconciled in the fall, Bastnagel said.