Officials from the Young Scholars of Western Pennsylvania Charter School are having no trouble finding students.
In fact, children are on a waiting list to gain admission to the public school found on Newport Drive in Baldwin Township.
But whether or not the school's building will legally be able to hold all of those kids is another matter.
On Tuesday night, Young Scholars President Dr. Melih Demirkan and CEO Alpaslan Ozdogan appeared before the Baldwin Township Planning Commission and Board of Commissioners to officially apply for a revision of the school's conditional use application in the township.
Demirkan said that officials at Young Scholars, which has a current enrollment of just fewer than 180 students, want to add 40 more students for next school year, and they want enrollment to be at 360 students by 2019.
However, as was discussed at township meetings in March 2011, Young Scholars was only approved to operate at 600 Newport Dr. with an enrollment not to exceed 180 students. Should the school ever exceed that number, it would have to gain approval again.
Demirkan is asking for just such approval, arguing that Young Scholars currently uses only about 21,000 of 600 Newport's 30,800 square feet and saying that the school's location and leaders are equipped to handle an enlarged student body.
But not everyone is so sure.
Members of the township Planning Commission decided on Tuesday not to formally recommend an approval of Young Scholars' request to the Board of Commissioners, asking instead that school officials review their plans for handling increases in parking and traffic on and around school grounds.
Concerns ranged from street congestion in the township to the possible inability of emergency workers to service a more crowded area, especially when the school building hosts events like family functions and open houses.
Township solicitor Tom McDermott pointed out that the school's parking lot currently boasts only 47 parking spaces. McDermott said that an increase in student body size would mean an increase in Young Scholars employees, who would need to park on school grounds—not to mention guests that also need parking spaces.
Demirkan said that the school currently employs 25 people, 17 of whom are full-time workers. The school's maximum target number of overall employees, with more students, would be 45.
"There's no question that they will need a revised site plan (for) parking," McDermott said.
Township engineer Glenn Jonnet said that the building's plumbing will also need to be inspected to determine if it could handle an increased workload.
After school officials address the municipal leaders' concerns, they can come back to the Planning Commission with their solutions and ask for another recommendation of approval.
McDermott said that township officials have 100 days to make a decision regarding Young Scholars' application. If they need more time, they'll have to ask the school's leaders for an extension.
Demirkan said that Young Scholars' leaders want to add two sections of kindergarteners every school year until they have students in two sections each of kindergarten through eighth grade. By adding only kindergarteners, the school's population will grow with the children—kindergarteners to first grade, first-graders to second grade and so on. (The school currently has two sections of both kindergarteners and first-graders and one section each of second-, third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders.)
Demirkan said that students from the Baldwin-Whitehall School District wishing to enroll at Young Scholars will continue to receive priority in Young Scholars' lottery system over children from other districts. His charter school currently educates students from 16 school districts, he said.
Demirkan does not anticipate Young Scholars as ever educating more than 20 students per grade section, with few exceptions. That represents a continuation of the school's current practice.
Township Commissioner Susan V. Snyder asked Demirkan how his school's officials have become confident enough to plan for 360 students by 2019.
"We have a waiting list," he said. "This year, we stopped ourselves at 180. It's a public school, but it's a huge competition.
"That's why we are here. It's a public service, so we want to do our best and give a good education—a different one from regular public school."
As an entire school, Young Scholars, like the Baldwin-Whitehall School District in its entirety, did not achieve adequate yearly progress during the past school year, as determined by the Pennsylvania Department of Education through the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams.
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