Baldwin charter school's request to increase enrollment on hold
A multi-cultural Baldwin Township charter school could double its enrollment by 2019, if its leaders have their way.
Representatives from Young Scholars of Western Pennsylvania Charter School, now in its second year of operation, are seeking to increase the student enrollment limit — set in a conditional-use application from Baldwin Township for the Newport Drive school — from 180 to 360.
“We believe that our facility is good enough to accommodate 360 students,” said Melih Demirkan, president of Young Scholars of Western Pennsylvania.
Baldwin Township commissioners held a public hearing Tuesday for Young Scholars' request to amend its conditional use application, initially granted in April 2011. Commissioners did not vote and will continue the hearing at a date to be determined.
Township officials requested Young Scholars representatives submit a site plan to show how they will be able to accommodate the increase in students and staffing, which could go from 25 to 45 employees in the next several years. Yet, there are only 47 parking spaces at the school now, solicitor Thomas McDermott said.
Members of Baldwin Township's Planning Commission met earlier in the evening Tuesday and tabled a motion to recommend Young Scholars' request for approval. They asked to have a traffic study done on the site.
Young Scholars representatives told Baldwin Township officials Tuesday that there is a need for the school, which serves students from 16 school districts this year. Last year, in its first year of operation, there were 130 students enrolled. This year, the school already has reached its max with 179 students, Demirkan said. A waiting list has about 40 students on it, said chief executive officer Alpaslan Ozdogan.
Young Scholars officials boast that the school specializes in multi-lingual education, small class and a wide-array of extracurricular activities. All students learn Spanish and Turkish.
Last year, the school operated with two kindergarten classes and one class for each grade from first through fifth, Demirkan said. This year, there is an additional first-grade class, as well as a sixth-grade class. Plans are to extend through eighth grade.
School officials said if granted approval, they also plan to add 40 students and two classes per year until reaching the 360 mark. Ten students could be added to the school this year.
Preference still will be given to students from the Baldwin-Whitehall School District, where Young Scholars received its charter for operation, Demirkan said.
The building, leased from Newport Drive Properties, is large enough to handle the additional students, Demirkan said.
Last year, Young Scholars was only using 16,000 of the former Rolling Hills Manor nursing home and elementary school's 30,800 square feet. This year, 21,000 square feet of space in the building is being used.
Township officials said an increase in students could lead to issues with parking and capacity of the sewage system. The traffic study also should determine if there are concerns with use of local roads.
“What we want to see is the capacity for the local roads to handle the flow coming in and out and the backflow onto the streets and maybe at the school and the ability for you to get folks in and out,” McDermott said.
Parking too many vehicles along the street nearby can be a fire hazard, said Commissioner John Paravati, noting the narrow access on the road in front of the school.
The opening of the school did not come without controversy.
Some Baldwin Township residents had expressed concern about new reports that the federal government was investigating ties between charter schools that are led by natives of Turkey and a charismatic Turkish leader, Fethullah Gulen.
The building also has been a site of contention in the past. In 2009, Mercy Behavior Health was denied an application to operate what many said was a mental health facility as a “nursing home” in the building. A large number of residents rallied for months to keep the facility from opening. Mercy did not appeal the board of commissioners' ruling.
Dewalt Drive resident Brady Byrd told commissioners Tuesday that his experience living on an adjacent property to the charter school has not been pleasant.
The three-year township resident has seen youngsters from the school throwing rocks onto his property, among other things, he said.
Demirkan said this is a behavioral issue that will be addressed.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.