Organizers behind Columbia County School for the Arts will travel to Atlanta today for one last effort to change the minds of state regulators who have recommended denial for their petition to establish the county’s first charter school.
Todd Shafer, one of the founding board members of the proposed charter school, said they intend to make another presentation to the state Charter Schools Commission in an effort to avert the denial of their petition.
“They are giving all the petitioners an opportunity to speak,” Shafer said, explaining that they hope to address concerns raised by the commission and at least gain some additional time to revise their plan. “It is a possibility. It is something we are hopeful the commission will consider.”
That possibility, however, is a remote one. According to Bonnie Holliday, executive director of the State Charter Schools Commission, petitioners will get only five minutes before the board before members make their final decision.
“The time to make your case is allocated in the interview, which has already passed,” said Holliday, referring to the hour-long presentation petitioners made to the board in late July.
Holliday said board members do not have to abide by the staff recommendations, but conceded it was unlikely for them to approve a petition recommended for denial.
The charter commission staff recommended denying the petition for Columbia County School for the Arts for three reasons.
First, it said the proposed school’s governing board did not demonstrate “adequate governing capacity” to operate the school.
The staff recommendation said that while school leaders were passionate and knowledgeable, “the governing board did not demonstrate that it would be able to assert authority, management, and oversight over the school leaders.”
Shafer said he and other founding members are hoping to clarify this criticism and figure out what needs to change in order to address the commission’s concerns.
“We vehemently disagree with their conclusions,” he said. “I think if you compare the board of our school to an elected school board, the skill sets will be a lot different. I would place my board of this school against any elected board in the state. They stand heads above, in my opinion.”
The commission also said the proposed Columbia County school lacked a clear plan to be ready for the 2015-16 school year and did not demonstrate a strategy for acquiring a facility for students in that timeframe.
The commission also pointed out that Shafer, and another founding member, Michael Berg, are still full-time employees of the Columbia County school system, and have a lot of work to do to open a new school.
“The leaders of the school, however, are under contract to work full time in the school’s proposed planning year, and it was not clear how the school leaders propose to balance the conflicting obligations,” the report said.
Shafer said that even if the state commission votes to deny their petition this year, they will continue refining their plans to resubmit next year.
“Even with a denial letter, that just gives us a blueprint for success,” he said.
“The momentum in Columbia County is that parents and students are yearning for this kind of education. Just because we are denied it won’t keep us from moving forward.”
Holliday agreed that a denial this year doesn’t mean that the outcome will be the same when the school reapplies. She said that several schools that were denied last year are expected to have their revised petitions approved by the commission this year.
“We hope that that is what they will do,” she said. “Some of our strongest petitions were those who were denied last year.”