Coweta Charter Academy: state says ‘yes,’ Coweta says ‘no’

Members of the Coweta County Board of Education vote down the charter school request. Photo/Special.

The Coweta Charter Academy at Senoia was one of nine charter schools approved June 28 for State-Charter Special School status by the State Board of Education. That vote came four days after the Coweta County Board of Education voted 6-1 to deny the application, and hence the local tax dollars, that would have allowed the school to continue its operation and to expand in August.

The June 28 vote by the state board came at the recommendation of Superintendent John Barge to grant State-Chartered Special School status to nine schools and local charter status to two schools, said Ga. Dept. of Education spokesperson Matt Cardoza. Those schools made up 11 of the 16 schools originally formed by the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. The Commission was recently ruled unconstitutional by the Georgia Supreme Court, Cardoza said.  

“Today’s action by the state board ensures that the students affected by the recent Supreme Court decision will still get to go to the school they originally chose,” Barge said. “We said from the beginning that we would offer flexibility so the commission schools could continue educating students next year and the board’s courageous vote today guarantees that.”

The decision paves the way for the Coweta Charter Academy to receive state funding. But the other half of the funding coin, dollars coming from local property taxes, is a different story.

The Coweta County Board of Education in a June 24 called meeting voted 6-1 to deny the application by the Coweta Charter Academy at Senoia that would have allowed the K-3 school to continue to operate and to expand through the seventh grade in August.

Board member April Parker was the opposing vote at the June 24 meeting that denied the application after hearing an analysis of the application by Superintendent Steve Barker.

Without local funds it is problematic that the Coweta Charter Academy will be able to resume operations and expand to additional grade levels. School representatives at the school’s June 2 town hall meeting said nearly 600 applications had been received for the 2011-2012 school year.

“Today is a sad and very disappointing day,” said charter school principal Terry Stollar after the June 24 meeting. “The Coweta Board of Education has stolen education choice away from the people of Coweta. Instead of attempting to help students succeed, it has put money and power ahead of students and families. In Coweta Charter Academy’s inaugural year, CRCT test scores were very impressive. Our first graders were 100 percent proficient, second graders 97 percent and third graders 92 percent on their reading scores; 99 percent, 97 percent and 67 percent respectively in Math. In third grade, 33 percent of the students are on free or reduced lunch and 25 percent of the students taking the test are special education students. All of this was accomplished in a rented church facility that housed 175 students. Imagine the impact we could have had in a new facility serving a larger population.”

Coweta school system spokesperson Dean Jackson said the analysis presented to the school board covered four areas including evidence for innovation within the charter school’s structure, Coweta County’s system-wide need for an additional elementary school, evidence of student academic performance during Coweta Charter Academy’s first year of operations and the governance structure of the school.

The analysis of the charter application and school’s performance was conducted since the petition was presented to the system on June 3, Jackson said. The analysis was developed from information within the application, from meeting with Coweta Charter Academy parents and Charter Schools USA officials, from board member and superintendent attendance at the charter school’s June 2 town hall meeting and from communication with Coweta Charter Academy representatives, said Jackson.

“Coweta has taken a huge step back and the students of our community will suffer,” said Stollar. “We can only hope that taxpayers will allow their rage to turn to a productive end that forces future legislation to be put into place that abolishes the ability of a competitor being the only authorizing authority for schools. Taxpayers should have the right to determine where their taxes go. The monopoly created by the current legislation makes it nearly impossible for competition that would raise the bar on education and allow our children to compete better in the future.”

One of the parents affected by the Coweta school board decision is Senoia City Councilman Maurice Grover who subsequent to the 6-1 denial said he was “disappointed in the lack of vision shown by the school board.”

“They dropped the ball. I feel that any of the issues used to deny the application could have been negotiated and worked out,” Grover said June 30.
Referencing the vote to deny the application, Grover noted the specific votes of board members Amy Dees and April Parker.

“Amy ran on a platform of school choice and then at the ninth hour she did not support it,” Grover said. “But with April, we as parents and citizens appreciate her supporting us.”

To view a copy of the analysis provided by the Superintendent, and a legal analysis provided by school system counsel, go to the Coweta County School System’s website at www.cowetaschools.org and follow related links under “School System News.”

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