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Faison blasts DCSS officials over charter denial

ALBANY — Late last month, the Dougherty County School Board voted 3-3 along racial lines to not support the creation of the proposed River School for Children STEM Academy (RSCSA).

The denial incurred the wrath of academy CEO Jewel Faison, who fired off a scathing three-page news release Monday in which she accused Board Chair Carol Tharin, Interim Superintendent Butch Mosely and board attorney Tommy Coleman of using ‘bullying tactics’ to squash the proposed new charter school.

“Longtime Dougherty County School System (DCSS) Board Attorney Tommy Coleman with Board Chairperson, Carol Tharin and Interim Superintendent Dr. David “Butch” Mosely have launched a personal and highly troubling campaign towards eliminating new, innovative, and desperately needed educational opportunities for Dougherty County’s parents and students.,” Faison wrote. “At its regularly scheduled August 21, 2013, Board meeting, and at the recommendation and direction of Coleman, the DCSS Board failed to approve The River School for Children STEM Academy as a local grassroots affiliated public charter school in a 3-3 deadlocked vote; one Board member was absent. Despite the public overture of one Board member for additional time for information gathering and discussion, Coleman erroneously advised the Board that, “You must vote on this today!”

The DCSS responded to Faison’s criticisms with a statement of its own Tuesday afternoon.

“The system has followed the rules and procedures established for charter application while the proposed charter organization has not. Our board is elected to serve the best educational interests of the children and youth of Dougherty County and has the oversight responsibility to protect the employees of this school system. In its vote, the board allowed the process to work as it should. The charter applicant can now pursue state approval for their application with the state charter commission even though they have not followed the process outlined by state law and department of education policy. In the interest of county taxpayers, our board and system leadership have the responsibility to attend the session at which the current charter applicant is begin considered.”

The denial means the issue now moves before the State Charter School Commission (SCSC). Under Georgia law, the SCSC will not consider a charter school’s petition for approval until the local school board denies the petition. The school board is also required to deliver a letter outlining why the petition was denied. The petitioners then must submit a copy of the denial letter, along with a written response to the denial letter to the SCSC.

One member of SCSC and staff will meet with both parties next Monday in Atlanta. The petitioners will have one hour to make their case for the new school, while the local board will have 20 minutes for its argument.

Coleman said Tuesday he had not yet received a response to the denial from RSCSA officials.

Faison and the group had “sought the cooperation of the DCSS Board in an effort to proactively diffuse any potential hostility between the school and the local system as is often the case when public charter schools arrive in local school districts.”

The group would like to open the new charter next fall at the the South Georgia Regional Achievement Center on Highland. That building, however, is currently in use. The STEM Academy plans on beginning its first year with a FTE (full time equivalency) count of 232 students in grades K through third, with a five-year goal offering K through 8 education to 522 students.

Faison’s news release added that “Coleman, Mosley, Tharin and a sect of Board Members are so upset and incensed at the seeming audacity and keen adeptness of this local group of professional educators and concerned citizens, that without any kind of public vote they have cancelled the regularly scheduled September 9th school Board meeting so that Coleman, Tharin and Mosely can travel (at county taxpayer’s expense) to make a feeble and desperate attempt to “CRASH” the River School for Children STEM Academy’s interview with the Charter Commission.”

In the Charter STEM Academy application to the state, they cite “the reality is that for more than six (6) consecutive years the Dougherty County School System has failed to make adequate-yearly-progress on state mandated accountability measures. Additionally with the 2009-10 discovery of massive improprieties in the mandated testing program (system-wide) the need for collective students is great!”

The school system fired back.

“Contrary to the release from the charter academy leadership, the Board of Education has never expressed a position that is anti-public charter schools. In fact, this board spent more than a year studying the charter process and compiled a proposal to create a quality public charter school just last year. Budgetary concerns for that effort led to the matter not passing the full board. There are board members who have the desire to continue to study charter choice for Dougherty County children. Today, we don’t believe that River School can offer STEM education options that can compete with those offered in our system.”

The DCSS contends that the new charter school has failed to comply with guidelines of the charter schools petition process. In addition, SCSC approval would cost the local school district more than $3 million a year and would require a second county-wide rezoning and the reopening of a school less than a year after closing three others in the county.

There are only 15 SCSC-approved state charter schools in Georgia.