A press conference at New Hope Academy further entrenched two sides in what is becoming an ugly public battle over the future of the charter school.
New Hope's charter renewal was denied this summer by York City school district.
District officials wrote a letter in September to New Hope saying the charter had missed the state's deadline to appeal, so it should consider its charter "expired and ended," according to the letter. The city district stopped paying New Hope, which was directed by the district solicitor to "immediately discontinue its operations."
New Hope, though, said there is no such deadline and it will remain open during the appeal process as allowed by the state.
York City Mayor Kim Bracey, speaking in support of New Hope on Thursday, had harsh, pointed criticism for Superintendent Deborah Wortham and the school board members, saying they are showing "disdain and contempt" for the state's appeal system.
"Trying to bludgeon them (students) back into the school district is worse than misguided - it shows a willful level of delusion regarding the depth of the problem we all face," Bracey said to applause from parents and staff.
Bracey said she's not under some illusion that New Hope is a perfect educational system, but "fighting to extinguish the few flames of success we have belittles our residents and typifies the aloofness of our school district. I do not wish to vilify the district leaders, but they are fiddling while Rome burns."
York City School Board President Margie Orr did not take kindly to Bracey's accusations.
"I am ashamed to have her as my mayor," Orr said when contacted by phone. "She ought to be ashamed of herself."
Orr said she questions why New Hope took weeks to file an appeal with the state, waiting until Oct. 1 appeal of a decision made months before.
New Hope officials said they wanted to make sure their appeal was thorough.
Precedent set?: Wortham said precedent has been set in the Charter Appeals Board that mandates charters file an appeal within 30 days of the nonrenewal being approved by the school board. York City School District's written decision was handed down Aug. 15.
New Hope's Chief Academic Officer Karen Schoonover, though, said there is no such case law about charter renewal appeals, and that New Hope has followed protocol. Schoonover took exception to the district's letter - word of which quickly spread to the community and led to upset parents, Schoonover said.
"Despite all of this, the School District of the City of York made their own determination that our charter had expired and they provided this inaccurate information to the public," Schoonover said.
Wortham countered the district never sent a letter to New Hope parents or community members and that only New Hope officials were contacted. And that letter was a matter of helping to smoothly transition students who attended New Hope back into the district.
"It has always been the goal of the district to do things decently and in order," Wortham said. "It's misleading the parents and the community to say we contacted the parents and the community."
"It's an outright lie," Orr added.
Taking an oath: Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said he's impressed New Hope has had steady enrollment growth - now up to 775 students in grades five through 12, with a 91 percent graduation rate- and the city district should stop trying to hold down a school doing things the right way.
"It's all about the turf, and it's all about the money. It has nothing to do with the kids," Piccola said.
Wortham and board members are "violating the oath of office" they took by demanding New Hope close.
"The oath I took was to serve the laws of the commonwealth," Wortham said in response. "That letter was an indication to serves the laws of the commonwealth."
New Hope parent Shannon Garcia said she wouldn't send her sixth-grade son to city schools if the charter school is closed. She said she might have done so before she heard about the letter, but now she's "so disgusted by the approach the city schools took."
Garcia said she chose New Hope because she feels it caters to her son's needs.
"I didn't choose a charter ... to spite the city," Garcia said. "I wanted what fits (his) needs."
An appeal hearing date might be set when the state Charter Appeals Board convenes next month.
- Reach Andrew Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org