Board Meeting Analysis
Public Comments Analysis
Public comment at the board meeting this week was lively and well attended. Both advocates and opponents of the Druid Hills Charter Cluster petition showed up in force. The advocates focused on a community coming together to serve and improve their schools. Opponents see the efforts as divisive and tended to suggest that outreach into the minority community was inadequate.
The opponents included David Schutten (President of Organization of DeKalb Educators),Lance Hammonds (First Vice President of the DeKalb NAACP) and Jay Cunningham (previous board member). Their arguments center on these allegations:
- The minorities of Druid Hills weren’t represented in the vote or the board even though the community is 80% minority.
- In addition to the state board and county board policy waivers, the petition requests 54 Title XX waivers.
- Special needs programs will die.
- The cluster is effectively a new school system.
The advocates included Matt Lewis, lead organizer of the petition, volunteers, community members and parents. Their advocacy centered on:
- Community coming together
- Community getting involved in education
- Education Pathways for everyone
- More responsive to family preferences and needs
- Addressing the misconceptions and myths about the charter cluster petition
New or Private School System with Public Dollars?
Charter schools are PUBLIC schools. This is enshrined in state law – O.C.G.A. 20-2-2062. The charter petition is granted (or denied) by the local board of education. Every charter is a contract between the petitioners and the board that includes performance goals, financial accountability and, if granted, is subject to periodic reviews. If the petitioners fail to meet the terms of the charter, the charter can be revoked.
Attendance in any school or cluster of schools operated under a charter is subject to state law – O.C.G.A. §20-2-2065 (b) (1-13). Additionally, the law provides that if space is available after the attendance zone students enroll, the school must hold a lottery open to all DeKalb students to fill these seats.
The notion that a charter cluster would affect funding for schools and students outside of the cluster is not accurate. The cluster will receive 97% of the funds that were going to be spent in the cluster if they were operated by DCSS without a charter. The net effect is a positive 3% credit to the district that is now relieved of the burden of administering the operation of the schools within the charter.
Attendance lines, Board Continuance and Waivers
Some speakers noted their concern over attendance lines and recalled the discord during the last redistricting process in 2011. They are concerned about future redistricting efforts and how their school community will be treated regarding this matter. I am researching this topic but it appears to me that the DeKalb Board of Education would retain the responsibility to set attendance lines.
The charter governance board is not subject to a direct election. Each School Leadership Team will appoint one person to serve on a Nominating Subcommittee that will be responsible for recruiting, identifying and screening candidates for Board service. The future Board shall be elected by majority vote of the then-existing Board. Additionally, everyone retains their vote for their local board of education member. The board of education holds ultimate authority over the charter.
Waivers are common and a part of the ordinary operation of schools within our state and district. Independent charters typically receive a blanket waiver from their district and state. These waivers allow them to innovate. The DHCC has delineated their waivers, rather than request a blanket waiver, because DeKalb typically has not entertained a blanket waiver for a conversion charter. In this aspect, DHCC’s waiver requests are far more transparent and illustrative than the typical blanket waiver granted to independent charters. It is important to note that Federal law may NOT be waived, which means that mandates such as Civil Rights, Equal Protection Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 are protected and the charter cluster must operate in such a way as to comply with all of these laws. The cluster did not waive a single law, rule, or regulation pertaining to students identified with special needs.