Committee faces appeals of decisions on charter schools

Seven campuses recommended for charters by the Georgia Charter Schools Commission will learn their fate next week. The state school board will vote on whether to endorse the commission’s new picks or overturn them.

But first members will hear appeals from four school systems that object to charter schools slated for their communities and two education entrepreneurs whose ideas for schools were denied. Administrators from the Coweta, Early, Henry and Griffin-Spalding school systems have complained to the state as well as leaders of the rejected Alpha Academy of Science, Art and Technology and Lewis Academy of Excellence

This will be the first time the state board's charter schools committee formally will hear objections to commission decisions. The process is testing the law that established the commission as an independent authority to approve schools.

“No one here is trying to overrule or take away or diminish what the commission has done,”  state charter school committee member Brian Burdette said Tuesday during a meeting on the appeals process. “All I want to do is ...  my due diligence. I want to be able to look each person in the eye and say I looked at that.”

The committee has decided to allow the districts complaining about the commission's picks to submit their objections, and the schools they are complaining about to respond to the objections, before next Tuesday's meeting.

Some legal questions also must be answered. The state Board of Education has the authority to overturn a charter commission ruling by a two-thirds majority vote. Charter schools committee Chairwoman Linda Zechmann wondered what would happen if the board overturns the denial of a rejected school.

"We will send it to the attorney general's office and ask for their guidance," responded the state board's general counsel, Jennifer Hackemeyer.

Meanwhile, parties waiting to make their appeals or defend their cases are preparing for battle.

Mark Whitlock, who runs Central Education Center, a charter school/career academy in Coweta County,  says his district objects to Coweta Charter Academy at Senoia moving in.

“What you have got is a district that has been performing at a very high level,” he said. “It is hard to understand why we would allow a [school] from out of state to come in when they haven’t been performing at as high a level.”

Richard Page, operations vice president at Charter Schools USA, the education management company behind Coweta Charter Academy, said his school deserves a chance. “Charter Schools USA has a track record of success; anyone who takes an objective view of our performance will see that.”

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