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Charter school OK'd for former Pitcairn Elementary

| Thursday, March 1, 2012

The sights and sounds of children at an elementary school will return to Agatha Street in August.

The Gateway School Board voted 8-1 last week to approve a Propel Charter School in the former Pitcairn Elementary Building.

The school board last year voted to close Pitcairn Elementary in May as part of a consolidation of elementary schools to save money.

School Director Oliver "Skip" Drumheller voted against the charter school. He said that the decision-makers for the school are not elected. The Propel Board of Trustees includes bankers, lawyers and business manufacturers, he said.

"Charter schools are part of a larger movement to privatize government," Drumheller said.

Board member Steve O' Donnell said it makes sense to maintain the Pitcairn Elementary Building but that he also agrees with Drumheller.

"I think it's ill-advised in the long run and could damage Gateway," O'Donnell said.

In the 2011-12 school year, about $13,000 in public money goes with each Gateway student who attends a charter school, and for special-needs students, the figure climbs to $27,000, said Paul Schott, Gateway business manager.

Propel, a nonprofit organization, opened its first school in 2003. It now has eight locations, including Turtle Creek, Braddock Hills and McKeesport.

The school will accept about 300 kindergarten through sixth-grade students in the upcoming school year, which is about 20 to 25 students per classroom, said Derric Heck, strategic director for Propel. Seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms will be added in each of the following two years, he said.

Statewide, public school boards must approve a charter school's application before the school can open in the district.

Pitcairn families have first priority to enroll, followed by students on a waiting list from surrounding communities.

Propel officials are assessing the needs of the Pitcairn Elementary Building. Necessary repairs and updates will be made before the school opens in August, Heck said.

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