The Bedford Area School District does not intend to renew its charter with the HOPE for Hyndman Charter School but officials will continue discussions with the charter school’s leadership.
The school board during its meeting Monday night voted that it plans not to renew the five-year contract, which expires June 30, with the charter school, citing the school’s failure to meet academic goals outlined in the current agreement.
School administrators also expressed concerns about declining enrollment and doubts about the school’s ability to sustain a new lease agreement.
By voting that it intends not to renew the charter, the school board triggered an appeals period that will include a public hearing at a later date.
“I’m afraid what I’m seeing does not meet the standard for academic performance that the Bedford Area School District stands for,” Tom Bullington, board president, said following a presentation reviewing the charter school’s progress over the past five years. “And I’m not seeing any hope that it’s going to change. It hasn’t changed in 10 years.”
Superintendent Dr. Allen Sell said it was the administration’s recommendation not to renew the charter but to continue discussions.
“In the end, they’re our kids,” Sell said. “And whatever happens, we need to make sure it’s good for our kids.”
No administrators from the charter school spoke during the meeting, which was conducted by Zoom.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Paul Ruhlman presented the review of the charter school to the board and outlined a number of concerns the district has with progress being made there.
The board is citing the school’s failure to meet the academic milestones — as determined by Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) and Keystone testing scores — as the reason not to renew the charter.
Rulhman said the charter school was tasked with meeting 66% of the PSSA testing requirements for grades 3 through 8 outlined in the charter, but met 58% during the 2017-18 school year and 12.5% during the 2018-19 school year.
Data for the 2019-20 school year was not available due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Unfortunately, I must report to you that relative to the academic performance, that they failed to meet their goals,” Ruhlman told the board.
For the Keystone exams, which includes biology, literature and algebra testing for high school students, the school failed to improve its biology testing scores since 2016-17, a requirement of the charter. It did have improvement in its literature and algebra scores during that time.
Ruhlman noted the charter school did meet other goals outlined in the charter, including implementing its Individualized Goal Plan, its STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Approach, as well as goals for fiscal management, educational leadership and professional development.
While academic concerns were the ground the board used to make its intention not to renew the charter, Ruhlman said there were other concerns about declining enrollment at the charter school and the financial trends for the next five years.
Ruhlman said HOPE’s revenue is determined based largely on student enrollment, which has dropped significantly over the past decade.
Enrollment was 345 students during the 2011-12 school year but has since dropped 49.5%, including a 30.5% drop in enrollment over the past five years.
The school had 247 students during the 2016-17 school year, but enrollment has dropped to 174 the past two years.
“The 10-year trend indicates student enrollment growth is not likely,” Ruhlman said, adding there has not been in housing development or major industry moving into the area that would indicate a sudden change.
The charter school and school district offered conflicting models on projected enrollment over the next five years.
HOPE’s two models predicted enrollment would increase to between 192 to 200 students.
“I don’t know how you can say it’s going to suddenly change cycle when the past history isn’t there,” Ruhlman said.
The school district’s first model had enrollment staying at 174, with Ruhlman noting that some charter schools have seen enrollment stabilize after years of initial decreases.
The district’s second model projected a drop of 20 students in enrollment by 2025-26.
Ruhlman said the district is also concerned about the “tremendously high” teacher turnover rates in the charter school.
The school had a 50% turnover rate during the 2017-18 academic year, following by 35% and 18% rates the following two years, respectively.
“There is a tremendous educational benefit from having a stable staff that the kids can reliably come back to year after year and say ‘I know this adult,’” Ruhlman said.
Ruhlman said the decrease in student enrollment adds uncertainty to the school’s ability to afford a lease agreement with the district as part of a new charter.
“The more students they have, the more revenue they generate,” Ruhlman said.
While the school grew its fund balance from about $220,000 on June 30, 2015, to $640,000 this past June, Ruhlman said those revenue increases aren’t likely to continue with a new lease agreement, which is still in negotiations.
In his projections over the next five years, Ruhlman calculated in a $350,000 “conservative” lease agreement with the district, which would likely drain the school’s fund balance by the end of the 2023-24 school year.
The district provided the school with a $1 lease agreement for the initial 10 years of the charter with the intention of helping it stabilize operations.
Sell noted a public hearing on the charter would likely be in February.