Manassas Journal Messenger | Charter school still on hold
The Prince William County School Board on Wednesday postponed for the third time a decision about the Prince William Linguistics Academy.
In 2002, Dr. Samia Harris submitted the initial application asking the school board to fund a school to teach Arabic, French, English and Spanish to 500 kindergarten through sixth-grade students .
Students at the proposed academy would would include be at-risk, non-English-speaking students who would learn the language through an immersion program. English speaking students at the school could learn Spanish, French or Arabic.
The school board staff did not like the proposal and asked Harris to write another one.
Harris submitted another plan in July of 2003.
The staff didn’t like that one either, and cited unresolved legal issues, limited experience with non-English speakers and millions of dollars in startup costs as reasons for the recommendation for denial.
Harris said she couldn’t understand how the staff determined that she wasn’t qualified to teach foreign languages.
Harris established and manages the Prince William Academy. She has taught English as a second language in Egypt, Nigeria, Yemen and Toronto.
“I have 22 years of experience in education and 17 years in managing a very successful model school (at the Prince William Academy). If that’s not sufficient, I don’t know what is,” Harris said.
The unresolved legal issues include the Third Party Rule, Conflict of Interest and the Virginia Public Procurement Act.
In 1987 the General Assembly passed legislation to standardize the rules of conduct for Commonwealth employees.
The alledged conflict arises with regard to the Prince William Linguistics Academy, in section 2.2-3109(A), which prohibits any government officer or employee from making money outside of their employment contract.
Harris Enterprise, a company that Harris owns in full, broke ground for the school at 3480 Commission Court in Lake Ridge, in September, despite a commitment of funding from the school board.
Harris wants the school to board rent the building from Harris Enterprise and allow her to direct the program.
Prince William Linguistics Academy board chairman, Buck Waters, said the school will open with or without county money, though they hope the proposal for the charter school is ultimately granted.
“Dr. Harris has always planned to put a school there,” Waters said.
“It’s our hope and prayer that it’s going to be a charter school. If the county decides for whatever reason that they’re not going to give us a charter school, then she’ll create it as a private school,” Waters said.
“But if you run it as a private enterprise, you’re not addressing the public school at-risk children,” Waters said.
Staff attorney Martin Grimm spoke to the school board and said the main reason for recommending denial is that “nothing is spelled out” in the proposal.
“A lot of charter schools have failed and primarily for financial reasons,” Grimm told the board.
“What is the financial oversight going to be? They said they will file an annual financial report. Well, annual is not good enough. Annually is way down the pike after problems have arisen,” Grimm said.
The proposal, Grimm said, also fails to address issues such as maximum enrollment, budget adjustments in case state budgets fail, incorporation documents, providing for dispute resolution between the charter school management and the school board and choosing a school spokesperson.