Proposed Charter School in Elmira divides community

James F Clay/via flickr
April 10, 2014

The organizers of a proposed charter school in Elmira are waiting for word back from the state on their application. The issue is driving a wedge between former colleagues.

People spoke with passion for 2 and a half hours at a public hearing Wednesday night. Teachers and board members from the Elmira School District warned of the negative impact the Finn Academy would have on the financially strapped district.

Hillary Austin is the superintendent of the Elmira School District. Austin says the charter school would take 1.7 million dollar from the district’s budget in the first year.

“By year five of this plan, this cumulative loss in revenue totals over an estimated 14 million dollars that the Finn Academy would take in order to educate only 396 students in their charter school,” says Austin. 

That would only cut 1.56 percent of the district’s total budget.   

Maggie Thurber, lead applicant with Finn Academy, is a former teacher in Elmira.
Thurber says the lost money doesn’t belong to the district. It belongs to the students. 

“So as a school board they are stewards of that money and they must distribute it to meet the free and appropriate public education requirements that all children have constitutionally in New York State and in the United States," says Thurber. 

Supporters of Finn Academy also argued the charter school would provide an alternative to a school district they see as failing students.

The school plans to limit class sizes to 18 students. The school will start with K through 3rd grade the first year and go through 8th grade by year five. 

If approved, Finn Academy is scheduled to open in August 2015.