OKLAHOMA CITY — The operator of one of Oklahoma’s largest and oldest charter school networks was rejected Tuesday in its bid to open a statewide virtual school.
Dove Schools, which last year enrolled more than 2,100 students on multiple campuses in both Tulsa and Oklahoma City, had applied for sponsorship by the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board.
Its proposed Oklahoma Information and Technology School would use Dove’s longtime science and technology model and serve secondary school students.
But officials said they found Dove’s application lacking in several key components required for sponsorship under the Oklahoma Charter Schools Act.
Rebecca Wilkinson, executive director of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, said she had concerns about the proposed management of school finances, its provisions for any special education students who would attend, and its student admissions procedure, and said clear graduation requirements needed to be outlined.
She also expressed concerns about a 2015 state audit that identified issues with Dove’s former supporting nonprofit foundation and whether its newly formed one operates in a significantly different fashion.
Lastly, she said Dove had not offered “verifiable proof” that it has adequate startup funds, as required for new charter school applicants by law.
Robert Franklin, associate superintendent at Tulsa Tech and the board’s vice chairman, said he shared Wilkinson’s concerns and added that it appeared to him the proposed school’s student handbook had been copied from its brick-and-mortar charter schools rather than made specific to virtual students’ needs.
“The fiduciary duties, in terms of the public trust, those are just huge,” he said, making the motion to reject the application.
Board member Mathew Hamrick of Yukon said he shared the concerns expressed by Wilkinson and Franklin, “But it’s hard to say ‘reject’ when it comes to a school that has been a leader on the brick-and-mortar side.”
The board ultimately voted unanimously, but Dr. Ethan Lindsey, a board member from Oklahoma City, visibly hesitated before casting his vote.
Dove can make changes and resubmit its application in the next few months, but a spokesman for the charter school network said he is unsure how they will proceed.
“We will meet to decide where we go from here,” said Marc Julian, currently principal of Dove South in Oklahoma City, who was prepared to serve as the new virtual school’s director. “Our goal initially was to serve some of the students on our waiting lists in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. We could have just added a virtual component to our existing brick-and-mortar schools, but we thought why not do it statewide and bring our model to students in the Panhandle and wherever else people might be looking for another option.”
Julian said he and the other handful of Dove Schools officials present were dismayed that their attorney, former State Attorney General Drew Edmondson, was denied an opportunity to address the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board on Tuesday.
He said Dove had fully addressed the state auditor’s concerns issued in a 2015 report and he and the other proponents of the new statewide virtual Dove school thought they could iron out the other details during the planning year new schools are given once they are authorized and before they open to students.
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