HEARING FROM RESIDENTS: Robert Marra, executive director of the Office of Charter Schools at Ball State University, opens the floor for discussion and comments about the possibility of chartering the Canaan Community Academy during a meeting Thursday at the Canaan Community Center. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
HEARING FROM RESIDENTS: Robert Marra, executive director of the Office of Charter Schools at Ball State University, opens the floor for discussion and comments about the possibility of chartering the Canaan Community Academy during a meeting Thursday at the Canaan Community Center. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
Proposed charter school Canaan Community Academy could be on the homestretch to becoming only the second rural charter school in Indiana.

Two representatives from Ball State University, a sponsoring agency for school charters, heard the Canaan group's request for a charter, toured the former site of Canaan Elementary on Thursday night and met with school organizers and the public.

Robert Marra, executive director for charter schools at Ball State, officiated the event and fielded questions and comments from community members for more than an hour in the school gymnasium.

During the open forum, about 150 area residents and former students - many of them with children who recently moved from Canaan to another school - stood at the microphone to voice their support for the academy's charter request.

Pleasant resident Jerry Eaton listed for the Ball State representatives the proper regulations he believes the academy has met and cited the resources it has in place to open its doors the coming school year.

"It's seems to me ... the only thing we're missing is a charter," he joked with the representatives.

Eaton, a farmer and former student of Canaan, has two young children he hopes can have the opportunity to attend the school just as he did.

He said the proposed academy would put the curriculum back in "community hands" by focusing more on art and enrichment activities and creating personal attention for each student.

Another one of his concerns regarded transportation and long bus rides.

"I know it's small and simple, but a lot of these kids have to ride on a bus 15 hours a week to go to Madison," Eaton said.

Sarah Rowlett, who owns the restaurant in Canaan, said her daughter attends Christian Academy on the hilltop in Madison. With her demanding work schedule, she said it's hard to find rides for her daughter to and from school. Opening a charter school in Canaan would help solve that problem, she said.

The public hearing, which is required by Indiana law, allows charter sponsors to gauge community support for the proposed school and assess the facility, which is the final step before the agency either grants or denies a school a charter.

In the coming weeks, representatives will take their notes and community comment cards back to Ball State and present their information and recommendation to the school's president, who ultimately will approve or deny the charter. The decision will come Dec. 5.

Deena Schafer, a leader of the academy and longtime teacher at Canaan, was one of the first to pledge her support for the charter and said the academy hopes to build on the success of Canaan Elementary, which was closed in June 2010 by the Madison Consolidated Schools board.

Schafer said that out of the dozens of comments from the community during the hearing, not one person was opposed to the proposal of starting a charter school.

"I'm very pleased with the turnout tonight," Schafer said. "I feel very positive and encouraged that Ball State will be looking upon us favorably when they make their decision."

During the open house, visitors strolled by open classrooms filled with furniture and stocked book shelves. Most of the items were donated to the facility, and many of the desks were gifts from Madison Consolidated Schools.

After Canaan was closed, Madison Schools turned over the building to Shelby Township, which then allowed the organization Friends of Canaan to use the building as a community center. The organization was formed to help raise funds for operating fees at the facility and create the proposal for the charter school. The seven would-be board members of the academy are all involved in the organization.

A charter facility - which is considered a public school and must follow state and federal education standards -does not receive local or county tax dollars, but rather uses state per-pupil allocation fees and federal funding. Students do not pay tuition to attend a charter school.

If the charter is granted, the Canaan school would receive $5,732 for each of its students living within the boundaries of the Madison district. In Indiana, the state redistributes a portion of the per-pupil funding from the public school the students left to the charter schools they choose to attend.

Maximum enrollment for the school would be about 140 students. Schafer said parents of about 80 students - most of whom are former Canaan Elementary pupils - have expressed interest in joining the school. Class sizes for the school would be about 20 students for kindergarten through sixth grade.

Schafer said a long-term goal for the school would be to use the 11 acres it sits on to add a junior and senior high school.

The school is designing its curriculum under the "philosophy of class" theory, which Schafer said first addresses the social and emotional needs of each student and allows more flexible schedules for teachers and students.

Schafer said the school may receive $150,000 in startup grants as early as February 2012, when the school hopes to begin operations, if a charter is granted. Based on the academy's 180-page budget proposal to Ball State, Schafer said it would first operate with a three-person staff, then employ seven teachers and one special- education teacher for the school year beginning in August 2012. The school would purchase two buses in the first year, but students would also receive rides from the Madison bus drivers.

Under the new charter school law in Indiana, the school district that the charter school is located in also must provide transportation for the charter school's students.

Schafer said the Indiana Charter School Board, the umbrella agency for all state charter providers, which also can grant individual charters, also has accepted the Canaan's group preliminary report and budget proposal, and will meet with the school organizers on Monday for an initial interview. The association scheduled a public hearing and tour of the facility from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14.

If Ball State grants Canaan a charter, the university would receive 3 percent of the school's yearly funding. However, charter fees for the state association would be 2 percent of the school's yearly funding, and there is no fee for the first year of sponsorship.

Schafer said that if the school is granted both charters, there is no timeline to respond or enter into a contract.

Ball State requires a five-year contract to sponsor charter schools.