Pottsville school board hints at revoking charter of Gillingham Charter School

Apr. 21—POTTSVILLE — The ongoing process of renewing Gillingham Charter School's educational charter appears to be headed for a showdown when the Pottsville Area school board next meets at 7 p.m. May 24 in the middle school auditorium.

Michael Cardamone, board president, read a statement into the record at Wednesday's monthly meeting that suggests the school board is considering revoking the charter.

"The Pottsville Area School Board might not schedule a vote on the five-year Gillingham charter renewal during the May 24 meeting as anticipated," Cardamone read. "However, the board may consider a vote to provide notice to Gillingham of the district's intent to proceed with non-renewal/revocation hearing proceedings due to the particular concerns regarding staffing and students."

A delegation from Gillingham, including executive director Nicolle Hutchinson, was present when Cardamone read his informational statement.

"We've been in negotiations with Pottsville for a renewed charter for close to a year now and, on top of that, we have been implementing their directives along the way," Hutchinson said in a written statement issued Thursday. "We thought we were close to an amicable agreement since we submitted our agreement to their proposal, so last night's statement that the Pottsville board may vote next month to revoke our charter did come as a bit of a surprise."

Under state law, charter schools must seek renewal of their charters by the school district in which they reside every five years.

Gillingham's previous five-year period expired June 30, 2022. The school remains in operation, pending the outcome of the renewal process.

Should Pottsville fail to renew or choose to revoke the charter, Gillingham can appeal the decision to the Charter School Appeal Board in Harrisburg.

Cardamone's lengthy statement, which was not discussed or voted on by the board, listed a host of alleged deficiencies in Gillingham's operation. It was signed by Sarah E. Yoder, superintendent.

Based on information in the Teacher Information Management System, Pottsville alleges Gillingham submitted inaccurate information on teacher schedules and job descriptions for 20 staff members in the 2021-22 school year.

Based on information provided by Gillingham, Pottsville alleges the charter school did not meet the legal threshold of having 75% of its teachers properly certified in 2021-22.

Fourteen staff members did not return to Gillingham in 2022-23, Pottsville alleges.

"The district remains concerned about the number of students withdrawing from Gillingham," Cardamone said in his statement. "Based on information submitted by Gillingham, an insufficient number of students from Schuylkill County were enrolled in Gillingham."

During its current charter, Pottsville alleges, Gillingham enrolled students from 22 school districts in seven counties. The school's student retention rate was 48% during the review period, according to the district.

In her response, Hutchinson didn't address the specific allegations, citing legal reasons, but said they were not a total surprise.

"This is the third time they will spend taxpayer money fighting to close Gillingham, causing us to do likewise to defend our school," she wrote. "Last time, taxpayers spent over half a million dollars."

Hutchinson added, "We don't want this, but if we have to go to the charter appeal board, we are confident that we will win for the third time."

Contact the writer: rdevlin@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6007