A hearing on the Riverhead Charter School’s expansion application drew no public comment at a sparsely attended Riverhead Board of Education meeting last night.
Charter school principal Raymond Ankrum was at the hearing to discuss the school’s pending application to revise its charter to add grades nine and 10 and expand its maximum enrollment from 500 to 787.
He said the expansion is intended to provide secondary education to students already enrolled at Riverhead Charter School’s K-8 program.
“We want to able keep our students throughout the pipeline of their education since we get them in kindergarten,” Ankrum said. He called the proposed expansion “an organic concept” and said the charter school “wouldn’t poach” ninth graders from other districts.
Riverhead Charter School, which opened its doors in 2001 as a K-6 school with an initial enrollment of 150 students. The school, located in Calverton draws students from 16 different school districts in Suffolk County. The bulk of its student body — currently 297 of its 495 students — comes from the Riverhead Central School District, followed by the Longwood Central School District and the William Floyd School District.
The Riverhead Charter School currently has an $8.4 million operating budget. Tuition paid by the students’ sending districts was $7.9 million for the 2017-2018 school year, according to charter school director of finance and operations Nicola Graham. The balance is mostly grant funding, she said.
The Riverhead Central School District pays the charter school tuition of $16,750 per student.
The charter school tuition paid by the sending district has been a bitter pill for school district officials over the years. This year the school district’s tuition payment to the charter school is nearly $5 million.
The expansion application is before the State Board of Regents. The local school board has no decision-making role in the application process but is required by state law to hold a public hearing on any proposed charter revision or extension.
“Usually charter schools within a district, especially in the secondary level, usually do offer some type of program or initiative that other schools in the area wouldn’t be able to offer, whether STEM or some type of technology, something that would offer all students in our area some type of specialty,” board member Susan Koukounas said.
Board member Laurie Downs said she has “no concerns over charter schools.” She did wonder out loud about a the charter school considering downtown Riverhead as a location for the high school, as Ankrum indicated in an interview Monday. “We have such issues when it comes to parking, so I’m a little concerned about that,” she said. “I would want to know if they want to use an existing building or a new building and the parking issues there. Other than that I have no other concerns,” Downs said.
Maria Piedrabuena contributed reporting for this story.
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