Charter cluster proponents don’t revise petition, urge its approval

The people behind a closely-watched proposal to put several traditional public schools in DeKalb County under private management say there is no reason their petition should be denied.

Proponents of the Druid Hills Charter Cluster responded Tuesday to skeptical questions the county school district administration had raised, saying they had no plans to change their application for a “charter cluster.”

The petition is the first in the state that would convert a cluster of traditional public schools to charter status, allowing them to operate independently of the central administration. If it is approved, others may follow.

“We don’t see any reason to amend a petition that is already complete and meets all the requirements of law,” said Kathleen Mathers, a DeKalb resident who will serve on the charter cluster’s board if the petition is approved.

Earlier this month, the DeKalb County School District issued a review of the petition that sounded dubious about its prospects. The administration raised concerns about financing and the capacity for programs such as pre-kindergarten and special education. It also questioned evidence of teacher support and asked for a “rationale” explaining why an independent cluster “would not have the potential of dividing the community” by race and other differences.

A spokesman for Superintendent Michael Thurmond could not be reached for comment. His administration must make a recommendation to the nine-member school board, which Mathers said must vote by Nov. 15.

The petitioners say the answers to DeKalb’s questions were contained within the original petition and the appendices. A document they filed with the district Tuesday points administrators to the relevant passages.

The petitioners also note that the Georgia Department of Education reviewed the petition and determined that it “meets the requirements of rule and law and is in the public interest” — and that the DeKalb board should approve it.

Louis Erste, state charter schools division director, confirmed his agency issued that assessment, saying it was the result of an “informal service” offered on a first-come, first-served basis, “if we have the time.”

Mathers, who previously served as the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, said the message from DOE came in an email. She said it gave her and her fellow petitioners the confidence to leave their petition unchanged, except for minor edits such as revised page numbers.

The petition, if it succeeds, would allow a private entity to run Druid Hills High School and the middle school and five elementary schools that feed it. The petitioners say the schools would get no more money than already allotted but that they could provide more with the money than the current administration is able to do.

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