The Valley Forge Military Academy, a long-standing Main Line private school that in recent years has faced declining enrollment and allegations of mismanagement, has been denied in a bid to open a publicly funded charter school.
The Radnor school board, which rejected the application Tuesday, said the proposed Valley Forge Military Academy Charter School wasn’t sufficiently independent from the private school. The charter was proposed to be located on the academy’s campus and would have paid rent to the academy.
“It appears that representatives from VFMA applied to form a charter school in an effort to subsidize VFMA and make VFMA available to students through the use of public funds,” the board said in its denial, which was posted on the district’s website Wednesday. It called the application “plainly against the spirit and the letter” of Pennsylvania’s charter school law.
Christine Royce, a trustee on the board of the military academy’s foundation who would serve as president of the charter’s board of trustees, said Friday she had not yet received a copy of Radnor’s denial. But she denied that the charter was an effort to subsidize the private school or shore up its finances.
“The charter school would be a separate entity, would have its own separate finances,” said Royce, who said she would resign her position on the academy foundation’s board if the charter were approved. She acknowledged the charter would rent the academy’s facilities, but said many charters in Pennsylvania rent their space.
“There’s no doubt that we’re committed to following this through, and resubmitting the application if that’s the next step,” Royce said. The academy can also appeal, though a state board hearing charter appeals is currently in limbo.
Founded in 1928, the military academy — a boarding and day school for boys in grades 7-12 that also has a two-year coed college program — counts Iraq War Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, and author J.D. Salinger among its alumni. But lately, controversies have threatened to overshadow its legacy.
The school has been accused of overlooking sexual abuse and hazing. Enrollment has declined, and the school has incurred financial losses. Alumni have accused trustees of mismanagement, though the board has denied those claims and maintained the academy is on the right track.
In its presentation to the Radnor school board, the military academy said it would serve students in Delaware, Chester, and Montgomery Counties who “cannot otherwise afford a private school education,” eventually enrolling 500 students.
Enrollment this year at the academy was estimated at 175; school officials declined to confirm. Tuition is $23,000 for day students, and $38,000 for boarding students. Charters, meanwhile, are free for students — paid for by taxpayers through school district budgets.
During hearings before the Radnor board, representatives of the military academy said some students interested in their school had been rejected due to their inability to pay tuition.
That isn’t a rationale for the school to form a charter, Radnor’s school board said — adding that the purpose of the charter law “is not to subsidize private school tuition through the use of public school funds.”
The proposed military charter would be located on the current academy’s campus in Wayne and share some of its facilities, and possibly some staff, according to Radnor’s evaluation.
The school board cited other faults with the application, including that the academy had failed to respond to community concerns about hazing and abuse allegations at its school.
The charter’s backers told the Radnor board those questions involved the academy and weren’t applicable to the charter. But their application was grounded in replicating the academy’s model and “military culture,” the Radnor school board said, and “it seems plausible the same problems at VFMA could be present at VFMCS.”
The board also said the proposed charter would be in conflict with state law prohibiting charters from being established or funded by religious institutions. The charter would be supported by the military academy’s foundation, which describes its mission as preparing cadets to “foster the love of God.”
And because some of the proposed charter’s facilities would be in Chester County, it erred in failing to also apply to the Tredyffrin/Easttown school board, according to the Radnor denial.