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State Board of Education questions small pool of applicants for Innovative School District

ISD Superintendent Eric Hall

State Board of Education members say they’re concerned just two applicants are in the running for a contract in North Carolina’s controversial Innovative School District (ISD).

“In my experience in the contract world, I’m just concerned that we only have two players wanting to participate with us,” said board member Eric Davis Wednesday, just weeks before a state administrator is expected to recommend one of two private groups for the charter takeover program.

State board members will have the final say on whether to award the contract this year to Michigan-based, for-profit The Romine Group or Achievement for All Children, a new North Carolina nonprofit formed by a group of influential school choice backers in the state.

ISD Superintendent Eric Hall attributed the limited pool to the new program’s first year, suggesting more groups will look to get involved once word gets out.

The multiyear program is likely to  move to take on several more schools in late 2018, but will launch with just one school in the 2018-2019 academic year.

State lawmakers approved the charter takeover initiative in 2016, pointing to a need for reforms in chronically struggling schools. However, opponents sharply criticized lackluster results from similar efforts in other states such as Tennessee and Louisiana, also arguing that lawmakers were seeking to further private privatize K-12 schooling.

State leaders are expected to sign a contract this spring with the prospective school operator, which would control operations and hiring in a designated school.

State board members tapped Southside-Ashpole Elementary in Robeson County for the program last year. Leaders in the southeastern North Carolina county threatened to close the school initially, but have since backed off on that tentative plan. Robeson school board members are expected to vote on whether to accept the program next week.

Hall told state board members Wednesday that, following a December public hearing in Robeson County, he believes the district has a “good, strong coalition of support” in the school district.

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