Chronicling the law, policies, memos and emails between DeKalb Schools and the Ga Department of Education.
The central office is refusing to give up control of conversion charters, and a showdown may be brewing between the State DOE and DeKalb unless the new Superintendent makes a course correction.
In the past, conversion charter schools had minimal autonomy. That changed in November 2014 when the GaBOE approved new Charter School Rules. For example, Charter School Rule and Guidance says, “[DeKalb Schools must] allow local charter schools to exercise substantial autonomy over decisions affecting the school. The nonprofit governing board of a charter school shall have authority to make personnel decisions, including selection of the principal or school leader; financial decisions and resource allocation decisions”
The district is rewriting the DeKalb Schools charter policies and said here, “There is nothing in the proposed IBB or IBB-R that prevents a charter school, conversion or start-up, from requesting whatever level of autonomy they desire.”
However, actual guidance from DeKalb administration conflicts with their statement that conversion charters can request whatever level of autonomy they desire. When conversion charter school petitioners meet with DeKalb administrators at a closed petitioners meeting, they are given this Local & System Governance Decision Making Matrix document prescribing the extremely limited autonomy they may have. It allows the conversion charter governance board to take surveys, provide some input into personnel decisions, and have control over essentially the same level of funding that a Principal controls today, which is around 1% of the school’s budget.
State DOE Memorandum
The state DOE released a June 2014 CHARTER SCHOOL RENEWAL MEMORANDUM in response to districts across the state refusing to relinquish control saying,
“• Charter renewal applicants – including conversion charter school applicants – that are not granted full autonomy by their school districts will be recommended for denial.
• Full autonomy means that the charter school’s Governing Board must have the final authority in personnel decisions, financial decisions, curriculum and instruction, resource allocation, establishing and monitoring the achievement of school improvement goals, and school operations.”
DeKalb Schools Response To The State DOE Memo
Regarding the June 2014 state memo, DeKalb schools said at the July 2015 board meeting, “The State Memo referred to is not the most current State Board Rule or Guidance on the autonomy granted to charter schools, both start-up and conversions, and thus is not controlling law, rule, or guidance” [since the state BOE revisited and clarified the BOE Rules in November 2014.]
Lou Erste, Ga DOE, Throws Down The Gauntlet
Just days before the July 2015 board meeting, Lou Erste (Ga DOE Associate Superintendent for Charter Schools) sent this email to Dr. Jose Boza (DeKalb Schools Director of Charter Schools) saying that the state would recommend for denial any conversion charter where the school district only offered control over 1% of the budget.
Furthermore, Lou Erste reminded Dr. Boza that DeKalb Schools must approve high functioning conversion charters or else the state will not approve DeKalb’s petition to become a charter system saying, “[the state will not] recommend approval of a charter system contract for a district that fails to demonstrate it is a good charter partner with regard to its conversion charter schools.” If the district is denied Charter System status, it would revert to a Status Quo School System losing all waivers including class size, classroom expenditures, certification and salary schedule waivers.
If Dekalb does not follow the law and GaDOE policy on its existing charter schools, why would GaDOE approve the DeKalb Charter System Petition? The Charter System is all about DeKalb sharing decision-making with its schools. With a poor track record on sharing decision-making with its conversion charter schools, the State would be hard-pressed to believe that DeKalb will follow through in a Charter System.
The State’s Latest Memo
Last Friday the state issued a new July 2015 CHARTER SCHOOL RENEWAL MEMORANDUM restating the previous June 2014 memo. Additionally, the state has requested, “Conversion charter school applicants must also include a statement from their school district detailing the district’s plan to ensure the conversion charter school will operate with substantial autonomy and how the district will ensure its effective support of the charter school, including what, if any, changes it will make to its central office to ensure that the charter school is properly supported and operates with substantial autonomy.”
The administration has been rewriting the DeKalb Schools charter policies. Thus far the proposed revisions have not addressed conversion charter school autonomy, funding, or a description of how DCSD central office operations will change in accordance with new SBOE Rules. The new charter policies were scheduled to be discussed at the last two board meetings. Each time the charter policy discussions were removed from the agenda at the last minute. At the last board meeting I was told the new superintendent is evaluating the district’s position on charter schools.
Dr. Green will soon be meeting with board members and designated staff to discuss the Charter System and Charter Policy. According to the Charter Petition Process Timeline, petitions for start-up charter schools were due May 15 and conversions/renewals/clusters are due Aug 14, so there is no time to lose.
Related Docs & Sites
- 2015 Charter School Renewal Memo 7/17/2015
- Email From Lou Erste
- Hackemeyer GaDOE – LOCAL POLICIES OF DEKALB COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT RE_ CHARTER SCHOOLS
- Local & System Governance Decision Making Matrix
- Charter Petitioner’s Guidelines 2015
- Charter Policy Rewrite Attempt 1
- Charter Policy Rewrite Attempt 2
- OCGA § 20-2-2060 – CHARTER SCHOOLS ACT OF 1998
- State Memo (6/17/2014) – charters must be autonomous