Charter School Showdown – Part II

Chronicling the law, policies, memos and emails between DeKalb Schools and the Ga Department of Education.

School ChoiceThe 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.
The Law
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”
Jose BozaDistrict’s Policies
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.
Charter Petitioners
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.
Georgia Department of EducationState 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.]

Louis Erste

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.”
Moving Forward
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

3 responses to “Charter School Showdown – Part II

  1. Stan – this is an excellent summary of the TOTAL disaster that is DCSD charter policies. This level of disarray and even willful refusal to actually work WITH charter schools has been the status quo in DCSD for at least the 9 years I have been involved; the current situation is absolutely par for the course. Conversion charter schools in your district have been falling like flies – Chesnut is the only one left standing (planning to try and submit a petition) – despite being able to show performance levels consistently above state and county requirements, some of them with sizeable populations of ESL learners, FRL students and other challenges. Letting parents and school staff work together to creatively solve their school challenges – with the money and curriculum decisions that accompany new approaches – should be seen by DCSD as a feather in the cap of the school system, not as any indictment of failure. So many parents are so, SO tired of the completely empty blather about “working together” to improve our schools, they are unwilling to dedicate the 100’s of hours necessary to get a strong petition together, then tilt at the windmills to get through the approval process as it is today. There’s no ‘together’ in DCSD.

  2. I would like to make my own distinction between two types of charters. Some charters are born from, created by and put together by the administration like Destiny and McNair. The other charters are born from and created by grass roots movements in the community like Chestnut and the Museum School.
    Conversion Charters born from the administration, like McNair, have horribly written petitions and yet get 99% autonomy as seen in this board discussion and approval. Note: The state has no intention of granting McNair’s charter petition.
    However, high functioning community created charters like the Museum School and Peachtree Middle have to fight tooth and nail just to exist. The conversion charters in DeKalb fighting to exist consist of: Chamblee Charter High School, Chesnut Elementary, Kingsley Charter Elementary School, Peachtree Charter Middle School, and Smoke Rise Elementary.

  3. Don McChesney

    I often voted against Destiny and other schools with terribly written charters. I was usually outvoted by the majority of the BOE. We are at a crossroads here. If Dr. Green sides with the administration instead of being a leader we will know exactly what we have. It will be more of the same. Non achievement and a poorly functioning school system. This is one of those make or break decisions that will have far reaching effects. I am sure that the staff would rather remain a traditional system because it means less work. This may be our last shot at some redemption. Dr. Green do you have what it takes? Your staff has been part of a jobs program that has given us a sub standard school system for about two decades. Don’t you think it is time for someone to discuss the meaning of insanity?