09/09/2013 – Tapestry Charter II


Video – Business Meeting – Tapestry Discussion


Recap – Business Meeting – Tapestry Discussion
Dr. Carter – One of my concerns for charter schools is programs and services this district provides and being responsible stewards for our funds. Do we have practice or policy in place to ensure a capped enrollment or define per pupil cost for the system.

[glossary slug=’interim-superintendent’]Interim Superintendent[/glossary] – This is a very pertinent question. This is an ongoing discussion we are having regarding the cost associated with the FTE, as well as the cost of some of the auxiliary services that might be needed. Not just Tapestry, but any charter school.

Dr. Bell – We recently determined that the charter school get allocations according to the enrollment even if it’s above what their petition says. Recently, working with Mr. Ramsey, we’ve determined that what has happened is, even though you, the BOE, vote on a petition, that the state has incorporated into a 4 page document statements that say the petition is the application. But, what’s in the charter that the state approves is really the guts of the agreement. And, often times in that agreement, there won’t be any cap on enrollment. So, if you’re concerned about the 96 first year enrollment statement that came up this afternoon, if you do pass this, you probably need to make it a condition that enrollment is in the negotiated document that the state is going to send to us as we move forward.

Dr. Carter – What about the other ancillary costs associated with supporting services, transportation, our costs and expenses in terms of the work we do back in the district to support those systems. How do we cost that out and recapture those expenses?

Dr. Bell – Transportation is a separate negotiation. The law says we can retain a 3% admin fee, which we do for all charters for the general services we provide. The state has been saying that we don’t give the charters enough autonomy in the services we have been providing.

Cambell – Does the 3% fully recover our costs? That seems like an arbitrary number.

Dr. Bell – It’s in the state law.

John Coleman – One of my questions that have been answered since the work session, the lottery is for a general pool of students. There was no criteria for a number of seats saved for autistic students. I’ve been informed that reserving seats is illegal.

Marshall Orson – This is a population that is under served by our system. There are a lot of examples of success with this model in Coralwood and Hawthorne. They have done the work that is deserving of our approval.

Dr. Morley – I agree with any program that will benefit our children. I’m concerned about the enrollment limits being exceeded. When I was first introduced to this charter, I thought it was just special education students. But it has since been broadened to all students, inclusive, gifted and otherwise. I’m concerned about the voracity of what it would take to meet the needs. Also, the training and education of the people providing these services. I believe more work needs to be done. Once it’s been approved it can’t be undone.

Mayfield – Can we revisit the population diversity in year two as part of criteria for whether or not to renew the charter?

[glossary slug=’interim-superintendent’]Interim Superintendent[/glossary] – Now that we are into the strategic planning process, we have to look at how we evaluate and approve charters going forward. We have the opportunity now to re calibrate. It won’t affect Tapestry, but other charters going forward. Dr. Morley is referring to the bigger issues. We don’t have the understanding or capability to offer you an objective analysis. That’s the way it is today, but it can’t be this way moving forward. It’s not fair to ask you to make these decisions. If a charter impacts other students, you have to weigh that upon the positive impact of these students. We are here representing all students. Right now, I can’t say that Tapestry will do that cause we don’t have the capability to make that decision.

Dr. Morley – I don’t think it’s fair to Tapestry. We have to give people direction, that’s what we are here for. What can we do to help people get it right? If we start accepting these petitions, then other charters are going to expect us to accept the same thing. How can we be exclusive, or include everybody when the time comes around? It is a broader picture. We need to look at, not what’s just here, now. What’s the impact in the future. Economically, socially, we have to look at all those things. If we don’t take a stand and look at it now, when are we going to do it?

Marshall Orson – I appreciate those comments. We are in an interesting position. We are responsible to the school system, but we are also responsible to uphold the law of Georgia. The law of Georgia, whether we agree with it or not, sets the standards for the creation of charter schools. We are not allowed, by law, to substitute our judgement of that law, even if we think the law is flawed. The law sets the standards for us. We have to be careful. We could get 100 charter applications. It may not be an idea we like or approve of, but we are duty bound by our oath of office that we all took to uphold the law of Georgia. The law of Georgia establishes charter schools and the condition of the creation of those charter schools.

Dr. Johnson – But, the state law also tells us that it is incumbent upon each board member to make a decision based on the best interest of the boys and girls of the entire county. That is all of the students instead of just a selective few.

Orson – I don’t disagree philosophically. We are always looking out for the well being of all the students in this county. But, I do not think we can loosely interpret that there are standards, whether we agree with them or not, that dictates. Because, we have seen the consequences of that. The consequences ended up with an amendment to the constitution regardless of where one felt. We don’t have the latitude, while we must look out for all the students, it’s a delicate balancing act. We don’t have the latitude to undermine the laws that apply to us.

Interim Superintendent – Lawyers interpret law based on their understanding as to what that law does dictate. Only the Supreme Court of the state of Georgia will make an ultimate decision. The rest of us just offer opinions.

Dr. Morley – If we can’t make an informed and right decision, then why are we here? To govern and make the right choices. If something is half done, why are we going to have something half done. It’s not fair to Tapestry if they don’t have all the full information to be able to put this program together. We keep rushing to decisions instead of taking a thorough look at it and looking at the impact. We must look at tomorrow. We can’t make decisions about millions of dollars based on where we are right now and not think about what’s going to happen in the future. We must begin to look at the over all impact.

I’m an educator. Most educators will tell you we have seen too many programs come in. Our children are not guinea pigs. We need to take our time and make sure. One of the things we look at, the Bridge Program, is some of the things we are trying to do, to help educate parents on what they need to know. All of the parents have not been educated. There are laws in the state, but unless somebody stands at some point, and this board be one of the first to maybe stand up and say let’s questions some of this stuff. How can we make sure that we are not taking good money and throwing it after bad. How many of these schools are actually successful. Let’s give these people an opportunity to get it right, so the don’t come back later. And what are we going to do, come back again … it’s better to prevent than to intervene. It has to do with truth and facts.

It has nothing to do with Tapestry, but charter schools across the board. They come in and agree to one thing. Then, when they decide to, they go above and beyond the number of enrolled students and then the system is required to pay for them. That is not fair to those parents who did not have a choice as to whether or not they could go to that school too. And, you’re pulling money away from those parents and taxpayers. And, if they don’t have an informed process to make sure that they actually agree with that, then you’re going tell me that’s judgement? That’s fact on paper that this is taking place. Either we do, or it won’t be addressed at all. Then what’s the purpose of having a board?

John Coleman – This is a wonderful debate about charters. While this broader debate is important, the decision before us just Tapestry.

Dr. Carter – With regard to the negotiation of the contract, should this be approved, what are our legal limitations.

Johnson – Since we have a deadline, what are our options?

Laurence Warco (Sutherland Attorney) – You could approve it or you could not approve it. If you do not approve, then under the statute you have a period of time to set forth in writing the reasons why you did not approve it. It needs to list out why. At that point, they have their own options to consider. They can go to the state. They can come back and try to correct some of the stuff. That’s up to them.

Dr. Carter – Do we have the latitude within the contract negotiation to say that we expect them not to exceed the number of students they are proposing be enrolled on an annual basis. Not the composition, but the number as a whole.

Laurence Warco (Sutherland Attorney) – Yes. We would then negotiate with the State DOE. In the past, they have allowed districts, including DeKalb, to put in a provision in the contract that would limit enrollment. We negotiate the charter for many provisions with the State DOE.

Mayfield – If we don’t approve, what is the reconciliation time frame?

Laurence Warco (Sutherland Attorney) – You have 60 days to respond.

Mayfield – How much time do they then have to appeal to the state?

Laurence Warco (Sutherland Attorney) – I don’t know, but at that time they could either come back to us or go to the state.

Mayfield – What kind of relationship do we want with Tapestry. It may just be as easy in terms of time for us to use our evaluation process to determine whether or not they go forward rather than giving them the option of going to the state where we would have essentially little oversight.

Johnson – What I’m hearing is not that we want to deny Tapestry this petition, but we have some concerns and we are restricted by time.

Orson – Point of information. The concern seems to be about this enrollment number which is a byproduct of the negotiation with the state which can’t take place if we don’t approve the charter.

Johnson – If it were in the charter, then it wouldn’t be an issue with the state.

Laurence Warco (Sutherland Attorney) – The state won’t let us hold them to every state in the petition as if it were in the contract. They will let certain things become part of the contract but not everything. If it’s not part of the contract then you won’t have any recourse to deal with it on an immediate basis if they are not complying with the contract.

You would be able to, when it comes time for renewal, to go back to the original petition.

Johnson – That’s 5 years from now.

Interim Superintendent – The interpretation provided by council would almost encourage boards not to adopt any charters. If that is in fact accurate. Because, what you’re saying is, that the board or the district would have very little influence potentially on what is actually included in the contract itself. What board would commit to such an open ended …

Laurence Warco (Sutherland Attorney) – Just because you approve this today, the contact will eventually come back to you for approval. Most of the concerns raised here seem to be generally broad based, bigger policy issues rather than pointing out a specific thing in the petition. That doesn’t mean you can’t vote against it. The statute provides that it is your decision as a board member to decide whether or not you think this petition complies with the law and is in the public interest. That language is in the statute. If you don’t think it’s in the public interest to approve this, you are legally able to vote against it.

The concerns I’ve heard have been more general things about whether or not charter schools are a good idea or a bad idea. Other than the enrollment question, there are no problems with this something specific in the charter petition.

Interim Superintendent – I suggest that any specific concerns should be directed to myself, so we can negotiate with the petitioners and address them. We can then go to the state with everybody on the same page. The questions we have now can not be vetted. I don’t presuppose how anybody would vote, so we are either looking at denying the petition or somehow working with the petitioners.

Johnson – So, currently the only thing a board member can do is vote against the charter when perhaps all they want is to have a concern resolved.

Laurence Warco (Sutherland Attorney) – The issue here is that we are under a deadline. The only way we can get additional time is if they are willing to request it. I’ve been told they are not willing to do that because they have their own timeline pressures.

McMahan – The petition clearly states class sizes and enrollment. We are talking about accountability. It’s our opportunity to hold the state accountable. It’s not right if the state takes off all the limitations. But, that gives us the opportunity to have that discussion with the state. This is a wonderful opportunity to have the conversation with the state regarding the charter movement in general.

Orson – We have a deadline here. They agree with our sentiments about enrollment and class size. The problem is if we don’t approve tonight, there is a risk of us running out the clock on their ability to get the school up and running. They have many more things they have to do.

We have to acknowledge some culpability without saying there is fault. They turned this petition in in May. It’s September. While we may not have had the benefit of having this petition before us, the district has had it for over 3 months. So, the time period has run out. The petitioners dutifully abided by the time tables we established only to have the board after the deadline has run out, we aren’t sure if we are going to approve it.

Coleman – We need to have specific objections as to why this is not in the public interest if we are going to vote against it. We have a duty to not make this a macro debate about charter schools, but to evaluate the merits of this petition. Since we can review the final contract, we can evaluate the enrollment and class size language at that time. The Interim Superintendent and staff recommended that this forth. It was there judgement from May to now that this was in the public interest. I would like to know from the staff why they felt like this was a petition we should approve.

Johnson – According to the petitioners, they are willing to table this tonight and resolve the questions and concerns the board has through the Interim Superintendent and re present this in October. Or sooner if possible.

Interim Superintendent – I rely on Pat Copeland who leads the charter evaluations. I will say that Ms Copeland has been very positive about Tapestry, however, we don’t have the vote. It is up to the board to decide whether to accept or deny the charter. Provide us with whatever questions or concerns you have and we will see if we can negotiate or address these issues. Then, bring the petition back in October.

I have had a sidebar conversation with the petitioners. We feel like this is something we can work out.

Erwin – Is it possible for you to give us the petition when you receive the petition so we can all be reading it at the same time? We run into a brick wall when it is presented to us at the last minute. We are trying to make a decision and it’s been here for 3 months. The questions could have been routed out a long time ago. Is it possible to get this way in advance?

Laurence Warco (Sutherland Attorney) – When the administration receives petitions, they see issues right away. They go back to the petitioners and negotiate the issues at that time. I’m not sure what happened here, but the administration may need time to work out issues before giving anything to the board.

Interim Superintendent – Say for instance the Druid Hills Charter Cluster petition. There is a period of negotiation and change. The law presupposes that petitions will be renegotiated and changed in an ongoing continuous manner. Often times the original petition does not look like the one that is voted upon. This is uncharted territory. There is not a great deal of research on this. We are working through the darkness. In the strategic planning process is where we need to develop the capacity to not just vote up or down, but to evaluate petitions and/or the performance or under performance of the charters that we have. And, what we are going to do about it if there are under performing charters.

Erwin – Going back to Dr. Morley’s concerns about class size. That part of the petition hasn’t changed since May. Had the petition been given to us, it could have already been worked out.

Interim Superintendent
As another component, up until last week we were under the impression that the state had the ability to impose its will irrespective of what we have decided. I’m not sure the state has the ability to hear an appeal in this process. Based on what my lawyers were telling me, we have been engaging in petitions and contracts that basically, in may ways, we had little or no influence over control once the board voted to approve. That class size would then be dictated by the petitioner and the state and not the DeKalb County School District. We would have the right to check if in fact class sizes grew. That was an issue being addressed last week in DeKalb.

Johnson
The is desirous of the Interim Superintendent taking the petition back to the petitioners to ensure that when it’s brought back, the board can approve it collectively and unanimously for the common good of the boys and girls the petitioners are serving. I’d like to table this until no later than the October board meeting.

The motion passes 6-3