State seeks to revoke I.F. school’s charter

A state’s commission has taken the first step to revoke the charter for Idaho Falls’ Odyssey Charter School — one year after the school opened.

The issue: the state Public Charter School Commission says the school has not made adequate progress on accreditation. And if Odyssey’s charter ultimately is revoked, the school would lose state funding and close immediately — leaving nearly 200 students in limbo.

The Charter School Commission sent Odyssey’s board a “notice of intent” Wednesday, a first step in revoking the school’s charter. Odyssey “cannot and will not” be a candidate for accreditation by its June 30 deadline, commission director Tamara Baysinger said in the notice.

The notice begins an appeals process that could stretch 60 days or so. Odyssey has 30 days to respond in writing to the commission’s decision. From there, the commission will hold a public hearing within 30 days. That means the issue might or might not be resolved before the start of the 2014-15 school year, Baysinger said Wednesday.

School administrator Karl Peterson did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

Typically, school accreditation is a two-year process — and the most a fledgling school can do is show adequate progress to achieve “candidacy” status. But after three site visits, Odyssey had failed to show enough progress to reach this first milestone, Baysinger said.

The school opened in 2013-14 with an enrollment of 196 sixth- through 10th-graders, but it has been beset by other problems.

One is student attrition; 39 percent of the school’s students left during the 2013-14 academic year — and come this fall, the school is projecting about a 50 percent turnover from 2013.

Odyssey’s financial record-keeping has also been a concern, said Baysinger. The school has set aside Fridays for teacher collaboration and staff development, but hasn’t maintained adequate records of its training programs, she said.

If Odyssey closes, parents would have to decide whether to home-school their children, or enroll them in a traditional public school or another charter school. But there is a potential snag for Odyssey’s high school students. Public schools, such as the Idaho Falls or Bonneville districts, are not obligated to honor credits from a high school that isn’t accredited. That means Odyssey students might have to repeat classes if they transfer to a public high school, Baysinger said.

Odyssey officials have hoped to expand their high school offerings. They planned to expand to 11th grade in 2014-15 and 12th grade the following year.

Based on 2013-14 enrollment, Odyssey received $23,894.36 in state money last week, under a new state law designed to reimburse charter schools for a portion of their building expenses.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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