The Druid Hills Charter Cluster saga continues. After tumultuous board meetings and debates followed by a thumbs down from the DeKalb School Board last year, DHCC refiled their petition on May 1, 2014. The school board chair subsequently removed the revised petition from the mailbox of each of the board members, allegedly.
The following letter is from Matt Lewis, lead organizer and potential governing board member of DHCC, to Dr. Melvin Johnson, chair of the DeKalb County School Board. Lewis’ condemnation of the DeKalb County School District defends the cluster petition and accuses the administration of multiple counts of false statements as well as mislabeling documents as “attorney client privilege” in an effort to conceal information from the public.
(Note: Mr. Lewis, Welcome to “how we do” at DeKalb Schools … allegedly.)
VIA ELECTRONIC AND CERTIFIED MAIL
Dr. Melvin Johnson
DeKalb County Board of Education
Administrative & Instructional Complex
1701 Mountain Industrial Blvd.
Stone Mountain, GA 30083
Re: Druid Hills Charter Cluster, Inc.,Reply to Letter of May 30, 2014
Dear Dr. Johnson,
Thank you for your letter of May 30, 2014 regarding the Druid Hills Charter Cluster, Inc.’s (“DHCC”) revised petition filed May 1, 2014 in accordance with the Charter Schools Act of 1998, O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2060 et seq. (“Act”). The original DHCC Petition was submitted August 15, 2013 and provides for a conversion charter for seven schools in the Druid Hills High School feeder pattern under the Act. The Petition was supported overwhelmingly by vote at a rate of 92% in favor. The cluster is majority minority and majority Title I under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, addressing educational needs of students across the demographic spectrum. DHCC represents the academic rights of the students, educational and administrative staff, citizens and taxpayers within the cluster area.
As a reminder and initial summary:
– The conversion charter follows pre-established Board attendance zones with right of any student in the zone to attend the DHCC charter school. Moreover, the conversion charter expands school choice options for all students in DeKalb in that all seven charter schools are required by law to enroll out-of-zone students by random lottery where capacity exists.
– Not only may a student within the attendance zone attend the DHCC charter school as a matter of right, but that student may also choose one of several pathways not otherwise available to them in the School District – K-12 International Baccalaureate (IB); Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM); Advanced Placement (AP); and Montessori choices.
– In terms of school funding, please be clear that DHCC seeks no more and no less than the funding provided by the General Assembly pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2068.1. In a case won by your Board attorney Rocco Eugene Testani on behalf of charter schools, the Georgia Supreme Court made clear that “the funding mechanism for local charter schools is set forth in OCGA § 20–2–2068.1 and establishes a formula pursuant to which all local charter schools are included in the allotment of funds distributed pursuant to the Quality Basic Education Act. OCGA § 20–2–2068.1(a).” Attachment 1, Atlanta Independent School System v. Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School, Inc., — S.E.2d —- (Ga. Sept. 23, 2013). DHCC has identified no more, and no less, than is provided in OCGA § 20–2–2068.1 in the Petition. If that represents more funds ‘to the classroom’ than monies supporting administration (as was the result in the Atlanta Independent School System decision), then that result would be entirely consistent with and intended by the Act and supported by our Georgia Supreme Court.
Revised Petition Submittal to the Board of Education May 1, 2014
The revised petition was submitted specifically to you and the DeKalb County Board of Education (“Board”) on May 1, 2014 in accordance with the procedures set forth by statute at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2064(c). Those provisions provide for submittal of a revised petition addressing deficiencies cited in the denial “to the local board.” O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2064(c). The statute does not provide for submittal of the revised petition to a school district such as the DeKalb County School District “School District.”
It is our understanding that you removed the revised Petition from the mailbox of each of the nine Board members. As of the date of this letter, you continue to withhold those revised Petitions from Board review. Please understand that this is an act in direct contravention of the statutory rights of DHCC and the students, educational and administrative staff, citizens and taxpayers within the cluster area. DHCC counsel contacted your counsel Mr. Testani on May 27 identifying the serious deprivation of due process and associated substantive rights as a result of your action in removing the revised Petition from Board review. We again request that you return the revised Petitions to each board member and refrain from further interference with the due process and substantive rights of our students, educational and administrative staff, citizens and taxpayers within the cluster area. We remind you of the special and particularized Constitutional due process rights relating to protection of the minority and disadvantaged students and citizens within the DHCC attendance zone.
Charter School Office has “no information regarding the bases for
denial” of the DHCC Petition
Your letter indicates that you have provided the revised Petition to the School District Charter Office. This not only contravenes O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2064(c)’s provision that the revised Petition be submitted to the Board, but is legally inappropriate and unnecessary in light of undisputed facts.
– The Director of the School District Charter Office Dr. Jose Boza testified on November 11, 2013, during the Board meeting that the DHCC Petition complied with all criteria under the Charter Schools Act and School District policies. http://factchecker.stanjester.com/recorded-meetings/board-meetings/11042013-dhcc-vote/11112013-meeting-part-2-of-3/, at 1:10 to 1:11:05.
Board Member Thaddeus Mayfield: “can we get from staff whether Petition itself is in compliance with the Act . . . can I conclude then that the Petition itself is in order and that it is an assessment that the Board needs to make as to whether or not it is in the public interest.”
Dr. Boza: “Absolutely, sir, it is whether it is in the public interest.” Member
Mayfield: “So the Petition is in order?”
Dr. Boza: “Yes sir.”
DHCC assures you that the revised Petition includes no changes to the criteria under the Charter Schools Act and School District policies and therefore the revised Petition meets all criteria as documented in Dr. Boza’s prior testimony.
– The Executive Director of the Office of Charter Schools for the State of Georgia also reviewed the Petition and similarly concluded that it met the requirements of the Act and is in the public interest. Attachment 2.
– The Director of the School District Charter Office Dr. Jose Boza stated to DHCC representatives on April 1, 2014 that neither the Charter Office and indeed, to his knowledge, no one at the School District had information regarding the basis of the Board’s denial letter of January 9, 2014. Dr. Boza stated that the Board of Education – not the School District – would be the only entity that could elaborate on the bases for denial of the DHCC Petition. A copy of documentation of the April 1, 2014 [Note: need link to doc] teleconference is attached as Attachment 3 Ms. Maleika Vaughner, Ms. Campbell and Ms. Frazier were on the teleconference and similarly indicated they had no information regarding the basis for denial.
The April 1, 2014 teleconference with the Charter Office followed attempts to meet with the School District to discuss the basis for denial and attempt to come to resolution regarding any issues. Unfortunately, the Superintendent, Deputy Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, and Director of the Charter Office all told DHCC the same thing – they did not have information regarding the basis for denial. DHCC representatives met with the Superintendent on February 20, 2014. The Superintendent indicated he ‘agreed with 80%’ of the Petition, but that he did not have information at the level of detail to discuss the specific bases for denial with DHCC. The Superintendent kindly offered to set up three meetings among DHCC representatives and his senior staff to discuss and resolve any discrepancies between what the DHCC Petition requested and the ways in which the Board, at the Superintendent’s recommendation, believed the Petition was not “in the public interest.” As a result, DHCC first was referred to Assistant Superintendent Trenton Arnold and Interim Deputy Superintendent Dr. Alice Thompson.
On March 12, 2014, DHCC representatives met with Assistant Superintendent Trenton Arnold and Interim Deputy Superintendent Dr. Alice Thompson. At the March 12, 2014 meeting, DHCC presented the statutory criteria under the Act for approval of a charter school petition; the Board’s January 9, 2014 letter [Note: need link to doc], and initial responses for discussion to each of the four items in the Board’s letter. A copy of the power point presentation which formulated the discussion is attached as Attachment 4. Mr. Arnold and Dr. Thompson stated that they did not have the level of detail necessary to discuss the bases for the January 9, 2014 denial letter and suggested that DHCC contact the Director of the Charter Office, Dr. Jose Boza, regarding these items.
The April 1, 2014 teleconference with Dr. Boza is the same meeting referenced above in which Dr. Boza told DHCC representatives he had no information regarding the bases for denial in the Board’s January 9, 2014 letter. Dr. Boza indicated only the Board would have that information. The teleconference was attended by DHCC representatives and Dr. Jose Boza, Ms. Maleika Vaughner, Ms. Campbell and Ms. Frazier. DHCC again presented the January 9, 2014 letter and requested detail regarding the bases for denial. Dr. Boza emphasized repeatedly that the January 9, 2014 letter was not a letter from the School District, and that he had no information regarding the bases for denial in the letter, and that neither the Office of Charter Schools and indeed, to his knowledge, no one at the School District had information regarding the bases of the Board’s denial. Dr. Boza stated that the Board of Education – not the School District – would be the only entity that could elaborate on the bases for denial of the DHCC Petition. A copy of documentation of the April 1, 2014 teleconference is attached as Attachment 3.
Accordingly, there is no value in obtaining a recommendation from the Charter Schools Office, and as set forth below in light of the Charter Office’s handling of the DHCC matter, we have cause for concern regarding bias, unfair treatment, and a general opposition to our efforts to improve education for our students and conditions for our teachers and staff. As Charter Schools Office staff has already testified that the DHCC Petition meets its criteria and criteria of the Act, any review could only serve to provide additional opportunity to frustrate the purpose and spirit of the Charter School Act and the efforts of the DHCC community. Legally, there is no basis for a further recommendation by the Charter Schools Office or the School District.
Evidence of Bias and Violation of Due Process
In light of the totality of the circumstances, DHCC questions whether the School District possesses the requisite level of objectivity, lack of bias, and understanding of legal requirements for approval of a Petition under the Act required as a matter of due process to honestly consider the Petition within the bounds of law. As the General Assembly recognized in establishing the procedures under the Charter Schools Act, school districts whose interest is in self-preservation may have a strong incentive to disapprove charter petitions. A few points of evidence will help to demonstrate this point.
– Board member John W. Coleman expressed concern during the Board meeting of September 11, 2013, that the process followed by the School District – specifically handing out exhibits that no one had seen, attempts to block the public from receiving information prepared by the School District, last minute provision of information to the Board – constituted an aberration from the Board’s normal processes and procedures. http://factchecker.stanjester.com/recorded-meetings/board-meetings/11042013-dhcc-vote/11112013-meeting-part-2-of-3/, at 20:00-22:30.
– The School District and Board published a schedule that identified a date of October 31, 2013 as the time the Superintendent’s recommendation regarding the DHCC Petition would be available. Had that recommendation been available, DHCC would have had opportunity to respond to the School District’s positions, mischaracterizations of the Petition, and omissions regarding the Petition. The recommendation was never provided to DHCC, and it was first heard just seconds before the Board vote.
– DHCC requested formally and informally through Open Records law and other means any information regarding the School District’s position on the Petition prior to the Board’s vote and the Superintendent’s recommendation, and was provided no information. To this day, DHCC has never received a full response to the Open Records request asking for the School District’s position and Superintendent’s recommendation, and all documents and information relating to those deliberations.
– Indeed, not only did the School District and Superintendent not provide information and not follow its schedule, the School District never provided DHCC with any response with respect to DHCC’s comments. DHCC heard, for the first time, the School District’s objections to the Petition during the November 11, 2013 Board meeting.
– The Charter Schools Office mislabeled documents as attorney client privileged in an effort to conceal information from the public and DHCC. http://factchecker.stanjester.com/recorded-meetings/board-meetings/11042013-dhcc-vote/11112013-meeting-part-2-of-3/, at 24:50 – 24:60. The chair attempted to maintain this erroneous position depriving DHCC and the public of notice and an opportunity to respond.
– At the November 11, 2013 meeting, it is well documented that School District staff attempted to withhold documents and information regarding its review of the DHCC Petition, yet provided to the Board in an open meeting documents not available to the public or the DHCC. http://factchecker.stanjester.com/recorded-meetings/board-meetings/11042013-dhcc-vote/11112013-meeting-part-1-of-3/ at 22:40-23:00
– DHCC was invited by you, the Chair, on November 4, 2013, to participate in the November 11 Board meeting involving deliberation on the DHCC Petition, then disinvited late Friday, November 8, with less than a business day before the meeting. The Act provides that the Petitioner has certain rights with respect to its petition and due process would include the right to be present, participate, and respond to comments or positions regarding the DHCC Petition, to ensure that the rights of DHCC students, educational and administrative staff, citizens and taxpayers within the cluster area are protected.
– DHCC asked you and the Board for any questions it might request answers to regarding the Petition by letter of November 5, 2013. DHCC never received a response.
– While you ultimately allowed DHCC to attend the November 11, 2013 Board meeting, you provided no opportunity to respond to the extensive, surprise presentation by the Charter Schools Office and other School District staff. DHCC was only permitted to respond to specific questions presented by specific board members regarding specific items during a committee of the whole process. This process did not constitute due process and an opportunity to respond, and any possibility of due process was thwarted by the above-referenced intentional deprivation of information, positions, and concealment of documents through illegal markings.
– The School District provided no comment, response, or opportunity to confer for two months following the August 15, 2013, Petition submittal, but scheduled what was styled a ‘clarification meeting’ to answer questions regarding over 50 pages of School District comments two business days after transmitting these 50 pages of comments.
– In its October 17, 2013 comments, the School District provided no legal citation or criteria for the vast majority of its vague and overly broad comments, and no criteria at all for over 50 of the 83 separate comment areas within the 50 pages. The Charter Schools Act and Georgia Board of Education charter school rules and regulations were all but absent in DCSD’s comments.
– At the clarification meeting, the School District under advice of counsel refused to answer any questions regarding process or legal source or basis for comments, specifically questions relating to the missing criteria or basis for the 50 of 83 separate comments.
– In its October 17, 2013 comments, the Charter Schools Office initially identified 27 ‘question areas’ as missing or having incomplete information in an October 17, 2013 letter, but as noted in DHCC’s letter of October 29, 2013, School District staff overlooked information in the Petition. DHCC provided a table with specific locations for each and every item identified. Attachment 4.
– School District staff erroneously testified on November 11, 2013, that several programs that are not available to charter cluster students, specifically stating that International Baccalaureate (IB); Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) and Advanced Placement (AP); and Montessori choices were available to all 100,000 students enrolled in the School District. http://factchecker.stanjester.com/recorded-meetings/board-meetings/11042013-dhcc-vote/11112013-meeting-part-1-of-3/ at 21:20 – 22:40.
– School District staff also erroneously testified that the DHCC Petition does not offer significantly different educational opportunities than offered by the School District. However, in documents initially concealed but later released, the same staff member had identified the DHCC Petition as having “Differences” from current School District offerings in 11 of 30 categories, or over 30% of his documented categories of academic offerings. Attachment 5, Beasley Table. That is a substantial difference. Later in testimony, the same School District staff clarified that some of the DHCC offerings he characterized as duplicative were actually not being offered by the School District, but rather being ”reviewed for expansion or enhancement.”
http://factchecker.stanjester.com/recorded-meetings/board-meetings/11042013-dhcc-vote/11112013-meeting-part-1-of-3/, at 22:20-22:40. This testimony was misleading to the Board and prejudicial to the DHCC Petition. The DHCC’s May 1 revised Petition, including Preface and cover letter, clarifies and specifically identifies the vast differences and enhancements of the DHCC Petition, which should be readily obvious to members of a Board committed to educational improvement.
– During the April 1, 2014, teleconference between DHCC representatives and the Charter Schools Office, Ms. Campbell stated that the Charter Schools Office was disinclined to collaborate with DHCC due to what she described as “aggressive” questions “lacking in respect” at the October 22, 2013, clarification meeting. A review of recordings of that meeting leave the impression not of aggression but of repeated failure of the School District to answer clarifying questions in exchanges that can be described as nothing more than diplomatic on the part of DHCC representatives, while counsel for the School District repeatedly interrupts and instructs employees not to respond. We would submit that the School District may have been unfamiliar with the legal requirements and unwilling to engage in honest and straightforward questions and answers with respect to important matters of process and legal basis.
With all due respect, Dr. Johnson, in the transcript of the November 11, 2013 Board meeting, you stated that School District staff had followed the policy and procedures required by law, taking issue with other Board members questioning the process and intent. http://factchecker.stanjester.com/recorded-meetings/board-meetings/11042013-dhcc-vote/11112013-meeting-part-2-of-3/, at 17:10 to 17:50. All of the above is documented, demonstrable, and constitutes numerous instances of actual deprivation of due process and failure to follow procedures established by law. Indeed, the list is so extensive that it raises serious questions regarding bias and intent of the School District and Charter Schools Office with respect to the DHCC Petition.
System Charter Flexibility and Accountability Options
DHCC appreciates your invitation to collaborate with the School District regarding the Flexibility and Accountability Option. As you are aware, the Act specifically recognizes and carves out pre-existing charters and establishes a path for their continued existence within a charter system. DHCC was disappointed, however, that of the thousands of parents, teachers, and supporters of DHCC who participated throughout all of 2013 in the research and development of the first-in-the-state, parent-and-teacher-driven conversion charter cluster Petition, the School District was not able to extend even one invitation to a DHCC participant, volunteer, or supporter to serve on the committee considering the Flexibility and Accountability Options. If you have a concrete and meaningful opportunity from which DHCC’sexpertise would benefit, we are more than happy to collaborate and join with the Board if the interest is in the betterment of our schools.
In conclusion, DHCC is entitled to a vote regarding the revised Petition. That vote should take place following timely and careful deliberation by the Board, not the School District, regarding the DHCC Petition revisions, all of which are explicitly outlined in the May 1, 2014, submittal. Your removal of that submittal from the mailboxes of Board members constitutes a denial of due process which must be corrected immediately by providing the revised Petition, as submitted, to all Board members as required by law. We expect confirmation from you in writing regarding your return of the revised Petition to the Board members to whom the revised Petition was addressed.
We hold grave concerns regarding the process, and the bias and fairness of School District personnel. We have more than enough evidence to demonstrate repeated and egregious deviations in procedure and due process. The DHCC Petition’s legal adequacy is not in dispute, having been affirmed by both the School District’s Charter Schools Office and the Georgia Department of Education’s Charter Schools Division. As demonstrated in the revised Petition, the financial requirements provide no more and no less than state statutes and, therefore, cannot be a basis for denial. As also demonstrated in the revised Petition, the academic offerings are unique, innovative, and offer new programs not available to students in the cluster currently or in any reasonable time prior to their matriculation from the School District. Accordingly, there is no question that the DHCC Petition, as revised, is in the public interest and must be approved.
Matthew Lewis, DHCC
cc: DHCC Board