AJC: Fulton Fails To Watch Over Charter School Therefore Charter School Amendment Must Fail

Last December the Fulton County School Board denied a charter extension to the Fulton Science Academy Middle School. I criticized them at the time for the decision. New facts have emerged and I was wrong and they were right to deny the extension. An audit ordered by the Board revealed problems:

They include a decision to secure a $19 million loan and break ground on a new building for the middle school and companion elementary and high schools, before knowing if the middle school’s charter would be extended.

The School Board is shocked, I say, shocked!

“How did this happen?” Fulton school board member Gail Dean asked during Tuesday’s discussion.

Isn’t the School Board responsible for authorizing the charter and giving the school the money? Aren’t they the ones elected by the people to oversee education in their county? To give Fulton Science Academy Middle School a blank check then express shock when things didn’t go the way they should seems disingenuous to me.

AJC reporters Nancy Badertscher and Daarel Burnette turn this oversight failure by Fulton County into an attack on the proposed Constitutional Amendment allowing the State of Georgia to authorize charter school applications rejected by local school boards.

Elizabeth Hooper, a public school parent from north Fulton, said the audit findings point to problems that can come from giving charter schools autonomy.

“Why would anyone think it is a good idea to remove oversight of how taxpayer money is spent?” she asked. “Taxpayers need to know who is spending their money and where. And the legislators who want to remove that from public view are obviously doing it for reasons that have nothing to do with public education.”

Will Elizabeth Hooper hold her local school board accountable for their failure to oversee a charter school they approved?

Nobody I know of is urging that charter schools be approved with no oversight – in fact charter school advocates want oversight. They want the schools to work and to be successful. Because when they’re successful students are successful and parents will want more charter schools.

HB797, the enabling legislation which outlines how the State will authorize and oversee State authorized charter schools specifically calls for oversight. Among the duties of the Charter School Commission will be:

112 (4) Monitor and annually review and evaluate the academic and financial performance,
113 including revenues and expenditures, of state charter schools and hold the schools
114 accountable for their performance pursuant to the charter and to the provisions of this
115 article.The commission shall also review the citizenship and immigration status of each
116 individual that works at a state charter school and aggregate the information by school
117 on an annual basis. The commission’s duties to monitor the state charter school shall not
118 constitute the basis for a private cause of action;

Additionally, the enabling legislation requires State authorized charter schools to…

200 (2) Give preference in contracting and purchasing of services and materials to businesses
201 incorporated under the laws of this state or qualified to do business within this state and
202 having a regularly maintained and established place of business within this state, so long
203 as such businesses are otherwise similarly situated and qualified as compared to a
204 business from out of state.

Opponents of the proposed Constitutional Amendment will no doubt seize on anything they can to try to defeat it. I plan on addressing as many of those straw man arguments as I can in the days and months leading up to the November vote. I trust the public will get all the facts and make an informed decision on this very important issue.

35 comments

  1. John Konop says:

    Buzz in all due respect,

    I made this point in the past on this site many times as well in public. If the state overides local control, on a Charter school the school should have to buy a security bond, and or have reserves to pay for the school year. This Charter school was denied locally via budget issues. Now if the Charter school fails who do think pays the price of close to 1000 kids being shoved into the public schools mid year? I support charter schools, but I do not support bad fiscal policy. I warned years ago about office holders gambling with tax payers money leading to a fiscal crissis.

    …Daigle pointed out the school’s revenue is short of projections by about $1.3 million.

    “There’s two factors there — lower enrollment and the second factor being actual funding itself and how it’s coming in,” Daigle said.

    In the financial summary for fiscal year 2012, the school budgeted for 995 students, but the school anticipates only having 822 students enrolled. Right now 825 students are enrolled at the charter school.

    The average Quality Basic Education revenue per student from the state is budgeted at $5,781, but the summary forecasts receiving $6,667 per student. The financial summary also forecasts a net school deficit of $77,023 for the fiscal year.

    Brown presented the budget variances and said that she expected total revenue for the year at $388,000 less than budgeted…..

    Read more: Cherokee Tribune – Cherokee Charter is facing 1 3M budget shortfall

    http://www.cherokeetribune.com/view/full_story/17700856/article-Cherokee-Charter-is-facing–1-3M-budget-shortfall-?instance=home_news_1st_right

  2. Josh Mackey says:

    Buzz,

    In the same article you referenced the quote from Board Member Gail Dean, Dr. Avossa spoke to the primary responsibility of the governing board of the school in overseeing the finances. However, the conflicts of interest involved with that governing board provided the catalyst for the problems detailed in this audit.

    The school system did their due diligence last year in reviewing the school’s charter for renewal, and that due diligence lead to the revealing of some of the financial issues that were confirmed by the more extensive audit that has now been released.

    Unfortunately, many chose to ignore the initial issues Fulton had found. However, those irregularities were confirmed by the State Board of Education and the Department of Education, and again by this audit.

    I think it’s a credit to your character that you’ve publicly recognized their course of action was appropriate.

  3. CCFRG says:

    Buzz-

    The takeaway from this whole story should be that legislators should stick to the Gold Dome and quit messing around with local school boards and the like.

    • Heh.

      Half of every dollar you send to the State goes to those local school boards. Shouldn’t there be some rules on what they do? Should Clayton County be left alone to lose their accreditation? Should Atlanta and Doughtery County be left alone to cheat at will? Local control baby!

        • ryanhawk says:

          I’m not aware of any instance of that happening. But what happens if local schools that produce illiterates year after year never go out of business?

          • John Konop says:

            First they have gone out of business before

            . …But what happens if local schools that produce illiterates year after year never go out of business?….

            Are you advocating irresponsible use of tax payers money to fix a problem.

            • Dr. Monica Henson says:

              Mr. Konop, please identify local district schools that have gone out of business (been shut down) in Georgia due to lack of academic performance. I am not aware of any.

              • John Konop says:

                Not in Georgia yet but schools have gone out of business in other states. Dr. Henson what is your background in the lending business? As I said many times I support charter schools, I do not support emotional irrational use of tax payers money. Please help me understand why you think a charter school should not have a guaranteed bond for the year to make sure tax payers do not get left holding the bag?

                What makes me laugh is you guys will call Obama a socialist and what you support is socialism on steroids. This is why I have lost faith in both parties.

                Why do you think the government should have tax payers guarantee private ventures at irrational levels of risk? It is clear Cherokee and North Fulton have charter schools that have real financial risk.

                The sad part is people like you promoting irresponsible behavior with tax payers money will hurt the charter school system. Finally only someone clueless in financial risk would even ask your question based on what we know. You may be a great educator, but you obviously do not understand basic business concepts.

                • John,

                  Perhaps your idea of requiring a bond is a good one and worthy of debate. Perhaps the State Charter School Commission could implement it on their own. What we’ll have in pace if voters approve it in November is a Charter School Commission to review applications for charter school (rejected by local school boards first). Based on what we saw before the State Supreme Court overturned our law worked well. Applications that were not deemed financially viable were rejected. Of the 16 State approved charter schools 12 of them have survived despite having their funding cut in half or more as they’ve had to adapt to the State Supremes ruling. I’d say that’s a pretty good track record.

                  We’re not moving into uncharted waters here. We’re moving back to the system we had prior to the State Supremes ruling. It working well then and it will work well again. Georgia has about 150 charter schools running right now, only 12 of them were chartered by the State.

                  • John Konop says:

                    Buzz in all due respect:

                    The security bond to me should be mandatory for local and or state in my opinion unless they have viable reserves. I am sorry if I seemed rather harsh about this issue. Many of us are very upset because of the pattern of the government local, state and federal putting irrational risk on tax payers ie in Cherokee alone, we have defaulted recycling plant, defaulted golf business, charter school with shaky financing, a new pool venture……. As you know I have been a major advocate for alternative options for schools before it was vague. Yet if we do private/public financing, I have been very consistent through the years that it must be done in a responsible manner. And if we do not do that over time the system is ripe for abuse. The concept of funding private ventures with tax payers taking a higher risk than the private parties, getting the upside, if it works makes no sense to me.

                    The best part of the bond idea is not only is that portion guaranteed, the bond would not get issued if it was not a solid project. We have seen deals in Cherokee with irrational business plans based on 400 percent growth that were financed with tax payers on the hook.

  4. EBurkeDisciple says:

    All the sniping goes away if we have school choice and the dollars follow the child to the school that the parent selects. The local school board, either government or private, is then responsible to the parents for the oversight of the finances and the educational quality. Parents can move as they see fit and schools will respond with excellence or extinction. Good plan.

    The constitutional amendment is very risky in my mind as we continue to divide and subdivide responsibilities without proper accountability. We need charter schools and more choice in school options but this does not seem a helpful way to implement it.

    • UpHere says:

      The enabling legislation has all the proper accountabilities written in. this is not anything new or exciting – the charter school division of DOE already does this and will continue to do so if the constitutional amendment passes.

      Plus, there is much more at stake with this constitutional amendment than just charter schools – it will clarify the states role in public education down to pensions, state pay rates, etc.

  5. ryanhawk says:

    What a bunch of populist bureaucratic claptrap. True accountability comes from choice. I could care less how this school spends their money — apparently the students and parents prefer it to the local BOE product on offer and that is all I need to know.

    • EBurkeDisciple says:

      At least you recognize it is about the parents and not about the government or educational elites. That is the point. I know what is best for my child not some bureaucrat. The money should follow the child.

  6. NorthGeorgiaGirl says:

    The more options parents have, the better off we are.

    The reality is that this wouldn’t even be a topic of discussion if the local school boards were doing their jobs properly.

    As for “local control”…I think of it this way. The school systems want all the control without all the financial burden being on them. To me, this is like a child reaching adulthood and continuing to live at home, expecting Mom and Dad to pay all the bills but wanting to set his or her own rules in someone else’s house. The state has to have some amount of input so long as the majority of the funds come from the state instead of all coming from local taxes. If they want want true local control, they should ask for the state to change the funding formula to allow them to self-fund the local schools, thereby removing any reason for state oversight.

    Look around. There are problems in just about every school system around. Financial problems, nepotism, legal issues, cheating, incompetent employees, inappropriate relationships between teachers and students…you name it, it is found in the news. Up in this area, you have a school board openly breaking the law in appointing a member to fill a vacancy when we have local legislation requiring a special election. The word is that the board doesn’t care how many people complain, they are sticking to what they have done. The law is crystal clear, but the people paying the bills don’t matter.

    Now, I ask you, why would I trust these nincompoops with my money or (most importantly) my children?

    • John Konop says:

      In all due respect you could make the above comments about private and public schools. Overall North Fulton and Cherokee county have a very good reputation with real results. My son just graduated from Woodstock High and most of the kids got into top tier schools who were on his track. Top tier private schools test kids and take the top tier students. If you compare both groups from private and public in my area you would not see any material deference in the results.

      The real question is how do we improve schools not destroy them in my opinion. The truth is the more the state and national government has mandated education It has been a disaster ie no child left behind, math123……….

      I am all for more options like expanding home school options into public schools, charter schools, dual enrollment, vo-tech,co-op,private…….But whatever we do imust be done in a fiscally responsible manner and without selectively bashing schools. The truth is somethings work well and other things need improvemen. But comparing what goes on in Clayton county to what is happening in East Cobbb, Cherokeee, North Fulton………is irrational.

      • UpHere says:

        What is your answer then? Sending a kid to get a cookie cutter education is irrational to me when there are choices to be had – and I live in Cherokee.

        • Harry says:

          I think what he’s saying is, let’s be careful with the financing. John is a tea party person though I’m not sure if he himself realizes it.

          • UpHere says:

            Geez – why write four paragraphs when you can some it up in a sentence? 🙂

            The funding mechanism is in HB 797 for all the world to see. It is not like anyone is hiding anything.

            • John Konop says:

              I sound like a broken record, but the issue is the school should have to buy a security bond for each fiscal year. If you live in Cherokee county than you should be especially aware of us all getting screwed on public/private financing ie recycling plant, golf corse…….

              I would trust a security bond company on the hook for the school checking out the budget over you guys. Harry knows I have made similar points for years about public/private financing, and while at the time they called me chicken little at the end it was a messs.

            • John Konop says:

              Btw the new swim park project look like another fiasco from the brain trust…….You guys are getting into a business that blows out water while we have a water shortage and you put tax payers on the hook with another high overhead business. Can you guys straighten last few screw-ups before you blow more of our money?

      • NorthGeorgiaGirl says:

        With all due respect, I believe if you look carefully enough, a lot of this stuff happens in all school systems. Some are just better at hiding it than others.

        I am in Bartow County and the school board is a joke. We have had everything from the board using taxpayer dollars to pay for the personal civil rights lawsuit of the board chairman and a guy in Gainesville (to protect their right to continue to engage in nepotism) to the current board which is blatantly disregarding local election laws, and that is just in the past 2 years or so. Before that you had the current board chairman fired as superintendent for “losing” $3.6 million dollars. Like I said before, I don’t trust these people with my money or my children.

        If the money followed the child, the schools would have to respond to the needs of the parents and students or they would go out of business. What we are doing isn’t working. That is the solution to your problem of what works in one place not working somewhere else. We have to stop being “system-focused” and be “child-focused”.

        • EBurkeDisciple says:

          Well said! When the money follows the child parents will exact rigorous accountability for results, both academically and financially. They will vote with their feet and children will be the beneficiaries.

  7. birdfan says:

    @ John Knopp – I’m not sure how you can say that your are “for” Charter Schools, but yet you’re buying into Cherokee County’s School districts efforts to blame the Cherokee Charter Academy for their budget woes.

    The last time I checked schools and school districts are given funds based on the number of children they educate. The Cherokee County School District is already receiving the local amount that would normally go towards the Cherokee County students who chose the Charter school. I hope you are not suggesting that Cherokee County School District should receive the State funds too for those same children when they’re not the ones educating them. Are you?

    In fact, for the parents whose children attend Cherokee Charter Academy their local property taxes are NOT paying not for their child’s education, but rather the education of other parents’ children…Cherokee County School district students.

    Can I suggest you read the following piece by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation http://207.57.255.197/forum/?p=2715. In this piece, you’ll see that Cherokee Charter Academy is providing parents with public school choice, accomplishing it with fewer overall tax dollars, and providing a quality education.

    If you are supportive of Charter Schools (as you say you are) and you are supportive of your local school district, then you should be a supporter of the Charter School Amendment and here is why. For every Cherokee County child that chooses to attend Cherokee Charter Academy that student’s education is being funded with ONLY state dollars. If you do the math, then that means there is an increase in local funding per student for Cherokee County School District students and here is why. If there are fewer students taking a piece of the pie (local funds) because parents are given more choice, then it means that there is more pie (ie. money) per students within the school district. The end result is more local funding per Cherokee County school district student.

    I think this is something that every Cherokee County resident and School Board members would be supportive of. At a time when revenues are down, why would anyone turn their back on a possible increase in local funding per CCSD student, while also giving parents more public school choice.

    In cases like this one. It seems to me that the local superintendent and some school board members are more concerned about losing control over where a student can and can not attend school rather than helping parents find the best public school option for their son or daughter AND increasing the amount of local funds per student for students in their district.

    I agree with Buzz. Those that would use the Fulton County Science Academy as an example to stereotype all other Charter Schools thus encouraging defeat of the ballot measure is very short sighted view. Would these same individuals suggest that the closing of a traditional public school (which happens alot…see Atlanta Public Schools) means that all other traditional schools should be closed? No. Then why should Fulton County Science’s situation (a locally approved Charter school) be superimposed upon other Charter Schools?

    • EBurkeDisciple says:

      Charter schools are generally an asset. And your example of the cost efficiency of Cherokee is true of many Charter schools and almost all private schools.

      However, the constitutional amendment further complicates our overall educational system and generally moves control and oversight away from parents. Yes, we need charter schools that have demonstrated good results and benefits to children and families but we should be very careful to analyze how we do this. I think this amendment is not the way to go.

      This brings us back to real choice where the money follows the child and parents select the right school and vet the environment their child will be placed in. This generates real competition on a level playing field and places the parent in the center of the equation rather than moving them further away and ceding all control to educational elites that are not accountable.

    • John Konop says:

      BirdFan,

      I am a businessman not a politician. In all due respect your argument sounds emotional not rational. Bottom line if you guys had listen to me and required a security bond to insure the finances of the school we would not be having this debate. At the end of the day, irrational financing with tax payers at risk is how we got into this economic mess. Your rational of expanding this policy has lead to the crisis ie bank bailout of government backed loans, AIG, recycling plant in Cherokee county………..

      We had this debate years ago when I first warned about it when I ran for office in the good times. A sign of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result. Please help me understand why you think we would achieve a different result having tax payers take irrational risk, and the private company gets all the upside, and can walk away if it goes bad?

  8. eliz says:

    Since you quoted my quote I will elaborate on my concerns with HR1162 – throughout Fulton County School’s negotiation with FSA MS administrators (6 months!), Senator Albers was negotiating on FSA’s behalf, knowing full well about the conflict of interest transactions. Immediately after the denial of FSA’s 10 year, blanker waiver petition, the entire North Fulton delegation signed a letter to the FCBOE chastizing them for essentially doing their job. The legislators words, “Failure is not an option.” In addition, several North Fulton residents, including myself, who have done independent research into the charter school’s operations (anyone can look at Form 990’s) were totally ignored by Sen. Albers, Rogers and Rep. Jones. At a town hall meeting in March, Chip Rogers, when asked if he was concerned about the well documented irregularities at FSA his response to me was, “Have they been indicted for anything?” Don’t kid yourself – it has taken a ton of money and time to bring this school’s operations into the light of day – our legislators have fought the process every step of the way. Who is going to monitor state chartered schools? The resources aren’t there. As a taxpayer with a state chartered school that I had no say in giving money to in my backyard, who do I appeal to if they are not following written laws or policies? These are practical issues and real issues that no one is addressing. Accountability at exisitng public schools is hard enough to manage. What sense does it make to add on another layer of oversight? The FSA saga just illustrates how difficult the process will be and the lack of will to do it by the legislators in North Fulton specifically.

    • eliz,

      Thanks for coming here and commenting. I do point my finger at the Fulton school board. The should have kept closer watch on the charter schools they approved. Nevertheless I hope you’ll see my post above, especially the portions about what oversight is in the proposed charter school enabling legislation. State approved charter schools will have plenty of oversight. Local school boards that approve charter school must also insure they are working as intended.

      Again, charter school are not a silver bullet to fix all real or perceived problems with public education. They are simply a tool to provide greater choice for parents and more options for students. We want choices in every other area of our lives, why not in education as well?

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