Dougherty School Board, charter school proponents draw line in sand

Dougherty County School Board Chair Carol Tharin says the county doesn’t need another school, saying it would divert money from the public school system. (Staff photo: Terry Lewis)

Dougherty County School Board Chair Carol Tharin says the county doesn’t need another school, saying it would divert money from the public school system. (Staff photo: Terry Lewis)

ALBANY — With days remaining before a Monday meeting with the State Charter School Commission (SCSC), the Dougherty County School System and officials of the River School For Children STEM Academy (RSCSA) are not budging from their respective positions in regard to the proposed charter school.

Last month the School Board voted 3-3 to deny board support for the school’s charter application. In response, RSCSA CEO Jewel Faison immediately asked for a meeting before the SCSC and launched a media blitz and an online petition directed at School Board members.

The petition urges members of the School Board to “step back and allow the State Department of Education’s process to be completed without intimidation or interference.”

On Tuesday, Dougherty County School System Public Information Director R.D. Harter released a statement in response to a news release from Faison in which she accused DCSS officials of bullying tactics in in regard to the charter’s denial.

“The Dougherty County Board of Education considered the application for approval of a charter academy from the board of directors of the River School for Children STEM Academy for the legally required period. On August 21, the petition for approval failed to pass a majority vote of the Board,” Harter wrote.”The board, as is required in the process established by the state, responded to the charter organization regarding items that needed to be addressed for the charter to be reconsidered.

“The proposing organization did not respond to those items and instead released a position statement to the media and public that is critical of the board and system leadership. The comments issued in the press release regarding board action are not conducive to cooperative dialogue between the Board of Education and the proposed charter organization.”

Reached for comment Thursday, Faison said she stood behind her assertion of being bullied.

“For the DCSS Board to decide to go to our state interview to express their disapproval with having a STEM charter in the county is the epitome of bullying,” Faison said. “They have a meeting with the Charter Commission and it is their right to do so. However, we have an interview as a part of our application process with the State Charter Commission. Those are two separate and very different events … (the board) had three months to visit the State Charter Commission to explain why they do not want a charter in Dougherty County.

“To try to mar our interview by asking for a meeting on the same day as our interview is most unfortunate. And to do so simply because they have the power to do so are bully tactics.”

Faison added change in local education is needed now.

“The reason that there are charters are because there is a need for innovations that make a difference now,” she said. “The trend nationally in the ‘system of education’ does not typically allow for such. Therefore, you have teachers that know what to do, but who are restricted from being able to do for individual kids what is needed because of policies and restrictions that are needed to make the system run well.

“Any P&G employee can explain this to you.”

Dougherty School Board Chair Carol Tharin said the board was simply doing its job in the decision to deny RSCSA’s charter application.

“My job, as chair, and the job of the board members, is to educate our children and to protect the Dougherty County School System,” Tharin said. “If the charter is approved, it will cost the district a lot of money and that will affect our children. We’d probably have to close another school. We’ve made great strides recently and we are headed in the right direction.”

Faison, however, denied the new charter school would take money from the DCSS.

“Our school would attract FTE (full-time equivalency) from homeschools and provide an innovative and viable option for new families who are looking at our community for possible relocation,” she said. “We would increase funding to the system by bringing in STEM dollars that heretofore have never been claimed for our region.”