By Jeff Amy
JACKSON – Mississippi’s newly created charter school board is beginning its mission with no director and no money.
When board members met for the first time Thursday, they decided to try to contract for services instead of immediately seeking a director. The board also plans to seek donations to pay startup costs. Lawmakers didn’t appropriate money, and the board won’t start collecting a 3 percent fee from schools until they open. The board could need much more than $100,000 to operate before schools open.
At the Charter School Authorizer Board’s first meeting, Clinton lawyer Tommie Cardin, appointed by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, was elected chairman. Laurel real estate agent Chris Wilson, appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant, was named vice chairman.
One part of the law says the board’s executive director must also be a lawyer. Advocates had flagged that as a problem months ago, saying it means only current school board attorneys were likely to qualify. Board members indicated Thursday they’d like to ask lawmakers to loosen that requirement.
While it’s possible a few schools could start classes in fall 2014, it may be difficult for many to be ready. The board is supposed to call for applications to start charter schools by Dec. 1, which means it may not make decisions until early 2014.
The new law, passed earlier this year, expands authority to create charter schools – public schools run by private groups that meet certain standards in exchange for less regulation. Charter schools would be authorized for five-year terms, and the board can authorize up to 15 per year.