Evergreen Charter School in Hempstead will expand enrollment more than 80% and add a high school unit under a controversial plan aimed at providing more educational options for students in one of Long Island's poorest communities.
For hundreds of families once consigned to a waiting list, the opening of additional enrollment slots at Evergreen is welcome news. The planned expansion, however, would translate into extra tuition costs for Hempstead's traditional school system, which already finds itself financially overburdened.
Evergreen's growth plan won approval Monday in a split vote by the Board of Regents, which sets much of the state's education policy. Staffers in the education department recommended expansion, citing the charter school's solid academic record and financial standing.
"Now our students will be able to be with us from kindergarten to high school, so this is a very important moment in our history," said Gil Bernardino, the school's founder and board chairman.
Hempstead school officials denounced the Regents' action, saying tuition costs of students opting for independent charter schools is adding to the financial woes of their system. A district spokeswoman, Nicole Epstein, issued a statement late Monday terming the state's latest move on behalf of Evergreen "absolutely appalling."
Hempstead recently estimated its charter-school tuition costs at $44 million this year, projected to rise to $55 million in 2020-21.
Under the approved plan, Evergreen, which now enrolls about 600 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, gradually would expand to 1,100 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The growth blueprint, part of which was approved in the past, would be completed by 2023-24.
David Frank, executive director of a charter school office within the state Education Department, told Regents on Monday that Evergreen already had purchased a site where it planned to build a new middle school/high school complex. The school currently occupies three buildings, one owned and two leased, he said.
An education department report complimented Evergreen on its academic performance, noting that the school's test scores ranked well above those in the surrounding Hempstead system. For example, department data showed that 49% of Evergreen students scored at proficiency level or better on state English Language Arts tests in 2018-19, compared with 26% of Hempstead students.
Evergreen was founded in 2009 by a group that included officials of Circulo De La Hispanidad, a Hempstead-based advocacy group, and its curriculum includes an integrated dual English/Spanish language program.