HOMER — Opinions volleyed back and forth ranged from positive to negative over the more than two hours long public hearing Wednesday night on the proposed Truxton Academy Charter School slated for the former Hartnett Elementary School building.
More than 100 community members attended the hearing at the Bonne Auditorium in Homer Intermediate School, but of the 54 people who voiced their thoughts, 34 were in favor of the charter school.
Of the positives, many who spoke believed the charter school would provide a needed second option for parents and give students a school focused on a project-based curriculum. They said the school would have a connection with higher education institutes such as Syracuse University and local businesses, such as various farms.
“We want a second option if students do not fit in with the Homer Elementary curriculum,” Jeanetta Laudermilk, a member of the Truxton Academy Charter School board, said during the hearing.
Those claims were countered with arguments that the charter school would be too much of a financial burden on the Homer School District, causing taxes to go up, the loss of teachers and the potential loss of programs.
“The charter school will not help the district as a whole,” said Martin Sweeney, a Homer Board of Education member, although speaking on behalf of himself and not the board.
He predicted adding the charter school to the district would cost the district too much, essentially requiring the district to pay for two elementary schools — a plan he said he does not see the motivation for.
Homer School District Business Director Michael Falls reviewed the charter school’s proposed budget and calculated the school could cost the district more than $3.6 million over five years, with enrollment of Homer students at the school projected to start at 60 and increase to nearly 100 during that period.
Homer is not the only school to be affected as Cortland, McGraw, DeRuyter, Fabius-Pompey and Tully school districts are expected to see students enroll in the charter school, too.
A statement from the DeRuyter School District was read at the beginning of the hearing, as the district was holding its own board meeting Wednesday night. But the district cited limited funds as a reason it is not in favor of the charter school which officials said would cause higher DeRuyter school taxes and possible cuts to programs. No more than five students are projected to enroll in the charter school, but with a $13,569 tuition rate per student, the cost would be too much for the district, the board stated.
Cortland Superintendent of Schools Michael Hoose also spoke during the hearing, saying he too is not in favor of the charter school. He said elementary education is foundational to a child’s life, and with the Homer School District having a 90 percent graduation rate, its elementary school already seems to be doing a good job of teaching the students.
He advised that community members should focus their efforts on pushing for more project-based learning at elementary schools that are already established.
Many who spoke against the charter school were not against such project-based learning, and said they want it implemented more in elementary grade levels, like the charter school’s plan to introduce foreign language at the elementary level.
However, Nadia Bieber, of Homer, said she experiences first-hand the need for the charter school. One of her sons has no problem with the district’s curriculum, while her other son struggles with it and would mesh better with the charter school’s curriculum, she said.
Anna Williams, of Truxton, attended Hartnett Elementary School as a child and grew up to work at her parents’ farm in Truxton, where she said she uses various skills such as accounting, algebra, chemistry, biology and many more. She said she is in favor of the charter school because kids can learn all of those skills through hands-on farming classes.
Some Truxton residents claimed the charter school could also bring prosperity back to the village of Truxton. Priscilla Young, of Truxton, said the town’s economy has been at risk since Hartnett closed.
“Opening of the charter school will help Truxton grow again,” she said.
No decisions were made by the end of the hearing. All of the comments will be compiled and sent to the state Education Department for the Board of Regents to review as part of the charter school’s decision process.