Charter board declines to resign to get $1M donation

Last week, the board of a financially troubled Atlanta charter school learned someone was interested in giving them more than $1 million, more than enough money to keep the cash-strapped school open. But the donation came with a condition— the resignation of the entire board.

The board chair said accepting the donor’s condition was out of the question.

But the pledge has renewed questions from parents about what responsibility the board — which includes former top state education officials and corporate and nonprofit executives — bears for the school’s financial problems, including an alleged theft of about $600,000. Some parents have pressed the board to release more information about the school’s finances and fundraising.

“I don’t have the full story.” said Tonya Clark, whose son attends Latin Academy. “I feel like there’s a hidden agenda.”

The board of Latin Academy, a middle school in south Atlanta, had considered closing the school at the end of this year. Financial mismanagement and the alleged theft had put the school in an untenable financial condition, board members said. Police have named school founder Chris Clemons a suspect in connection with the theft. Police believe Clemons has left Georgia.

As a charter school, Latin Academy is publicly funded and subject to the same open public records and public meetings laws as traditional public schools. It’s overseen by Atlanta Public Schools, but operates independently.

The school is now cash-poor, treasurer Scott Harrison told parents at Thursday’s board meeting, with a deficit that could top $240,000 by the end of July. The board voted Thursday to cut staff salaries and other expenses in an effort to improve the school’s financial condition and to add two parents as new board members.

Former Latin Academy principal Aja Kweliona told board members last week she had secured a donation of more than $1 million.

“The donor is not comfortable making such a large donation to the school if the money will be entrusted to the governing body that oversaw the school during the time at which the alleged misappropriation of funds occurred. In order for Latin Academy to receive this generous donation, the current board members would need to resign,” she wrote in an email obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

It’s unclear who the potential donor is.

Kweliona told board members she was “not at liberty” to provide more information about the donor, according to emails obtained under the Georgia Open Records Act. Board chairman Kaseem Ladipo declined to identify the donor.

Five days after Kweliona announced the pledge, Ladipo put her on paid administrative leave. The board remains in place.

“We don’t know any details about the donor,” Ladipo told the AJC Thursday. “We don’t just take an email and say we’ll just do whatever someone tells us to do. That’s just not responsible.”

The head of Atlanta Public School’s charter school department echoed those concerns, calling several elements of the potential donation “very troubling,” according to an email obtained under the Georgia Open Records Act.

On Friday, Ladipo told the AJC that board members had been in touch with the donor and continued to discuss a possible donation. The board is also in talks with other potential donors, he said.

“We’re trying our best not to publicize any details of the discussions that we have to honor the people who want to help us,” Ladipo said. “We’re focused on saving the school.”

If any donations are received, the board will make the amounts and the identities of donors public, he said.

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