It appears Shining Rock Classical Academy, Haywood’s only charter school, is planning to build a new school based on documents sent to Waynesville Development Services office.
However, none of the discussions surrounding the new school building have been held during public meetings.
The need for a new school, the scope of the project, possible costs of property and construction, as well as how the building will be paid for, have either never been discussed or the discussions have been held during closed meetings.
The school would be built with public tax dollars Shining Rock gets from the county and state. As a public entity Shining Rock is legally required to operate in the public eye with only a few limited exceptions.
The Shining Rock governing board contends it was allowed to talk about the new school behind closed doors.
However, the only thing Shining Rock could legally talk about in closed session is the price they are willing to pay for acquiring property — and nothing more pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-318.11(a)(5) .
Mike Tadych, an attorney with the N.C. Press Association who advises media about open meeting concerns, said matters such as hiring consultants or other professional service providers are not items than can legally be considered in closed sessions. Furthermore, the North Carolina open meetings and public record laws require that minutes be taken during closed sessions.
When The Mountaineer requested all minutes related to discussion of the proposed plan, SRCA board members said they did not have anything to provide.
The Mountaineer has regularly covered all Shining Rock Classical Academy board meetings and retreats since the school opened more than four years ago. It is unclear how the Shining Rock board got this far along in the planning process without a single discussion at a public board meeting.
Ready to move?
The only evidence that the board is ready to explore building a new facility is the thick packet of documents that was submitted Thursday afternoon to the town of Waynesville. The documents were filed just hours before the Thursday, Aug. 1, board meeting.
The packet included a drawing of the proposed building and documents on how environmental issues would be handled on a 16-acre parcel of land near the school’s present campus, generally behind Bojangles.
Public records show Lynn and Robert Noland are the current property owners.
Shining Rock’s current campus is located on property owned by Lake Junaluska Assembly. The school signed a 10-year lease on it, with a renewable option. Shining Rock purchased three modular classroom buildings and one office modular for a total of $924,796, and secured a $2.9 million loan through Challenge Foundation Properties at a 7-percent fixed rate to pay for the buildings, needed infrastructure and site preparation.
The board is apparently considering a move, according to the preliminary plan titled “Shining Rock Classical Academy New K-8 School Facility.” Plans state the project would be located in a rural setting bordered on the west by Russ Avenue, north by Jule Noland Drive and south by Maple Grove Church Road.
The documents further note that SRCA has submitted a special use permit for the land and identifies BC Construction and Schoolhouse Development LLC (a firm that helps charter schools purchase new buildings), as its development team.
The project also included an environmental report prepared by Civil & Environmental Consultants Inc., which had evaluated the land’s environmental risk regarding wetlands and streams.
Though the SRCA board has not publicly spoken about building a new school, board members have held lengthy closed sessions to discuss facilities after their monthly board meetings, a reason not allowed under state law.
SRCA’s most recent closed session was on Aug. 1, and lasted nearly three hours.
During that same closed session, the SRCA board invited two guests to join them: Chip Harp, the vice president of the Southeast branch of Schoolhouse Development, LLC and Larry East, a local financial advisor with Wells Fargo. No action was taken following the closed session.
When asked about details related to the new school proposal, members of the SRCA board and Head of School Josh Morgan declined to comment.
While this project has never been discussed, the board has previously explored other options.
In August 2018, the board placed an offer to buy 6.3 acres of land near the Riverbend school with a building on it for $851,000. The plan was ultimately scrapped because the board concluded it would not be large enough to include a high school.
At its board retreat the following month, board members discussed the crowded campus conditions, saying they needed three more classrooms. At the same meeting, board members discussed the possibility of expanding the school from a K-8 facility to K-12.
A committee was appointed to come back with options on how that high school might operate.
But by budget time this spring, Shining Rock enrollment numbers began to drop, perhaps as a response to the school’s declining test scores and internal management issues.
The most recent test results available show only 62 percent of Shining Rock’s students achieved a proficiency rating, which included a 15 point overall decrease in mathematics.
The most recently adopted budget is based on the school having 41 fewer students.