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FORT SMITH -- The School Board on Monday voted to endorse formation of a charter school in Fort Smith that would compete with the School District for student funding but would provide students with the opportunity for innovation.

The board made the decision during its monthly meeting. It had the option to endorse the Future School of Fort Smith proposal to the Arkansas Department of Education's Charter Authorizing Panel, oppose it and adopt a resolution to submit to the Arkansas Department of Education, or take no stand.

The board that voted on the charter endorsement Monday night was a new board. Wade Gilkey took a position on the board after unseating Russell Owen in the Sept. 15 school election. Bill Hanesworth took his seat on the board after defeating Rick Wade.

Gilkey and Hanesworth, along with Deanie Mehl, David Hunton and Yvonne Keaton-Martin, voted for the endorsement. Jeannie Cole voted to take no action. Board member Susan McFerran was absent.

School Superintendent Benny Gooden told board members their endorsement to the panel is only advisory. The panel meets Oct. 14 and 15 and will recommend whether to grant the five-year charter, which would be ratified by the Arkansas Board of Education.

Board members voted to endorse the school after inviting the founder, Trish Flanagan, and officials to a committee meeting Sept. 16 to answer questions about the school.

If approved by the state, the school plans to enroll up to 150 students each year for the next three years to fill grades 10 to 12 one grade at a time. When complete, enrollment would total 450.

According to its application with the state, the school would be an open-enrollment school drawing students from Fort Smith, Van Buren, Alma, Hackett, Mansfield, Greenwood and Lavaca school districts.

It would differ from public high schools, Flanagan said, by focusing on real-world education experience through student internships with local businesses and industries, setting up personalized learning plans for students and providing counselors to each student who would follow them through their high school careers.

Reiterating a point made in the Sept. 16 meeting, Mehl said the School District would stand to lose nearly $1 million in funding if 150 of the district's students went to the Future School. But, she said the school would offer more options for the students.

Hunton said he thought the school would receive the charter whether the board endorsed it or not, so the board should work with Future School officials.

Hanesworth said change in education is coming and, as he learned in business, it should be supported and not resisted.

Also Monday, Gilkey proposed to retain the Rebels nickname for Southside High School but to rebrand the imagery to the American Revolution. The motion failed by a tied vote, with Hunton, Gilkey and Hanesworth voting for the change.

Gilkey said the compromise would help the community heal from the division caused when the board voted unanimously in July to do away with the fight song "Dixie" and phase out the Rebel mascot during this school year.

Mehl responded to Gilkey the issue has brought out so much hatred in the community and she saw retaining the mascot as an act of capitulation rather than compromise.

NW News on 09/30/2015

Print Headline: Charter school gets Fort Smith board approval

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