Doing More for Students Using Less Money: Another Reason We Need The Charter School Amendment

Written and submitted by a DeKalb County resident whose 3 children have attended their zoned area DeKalb schools, a DeKalb magnet school and private Catholic schools.  Two children who are still in school currently attend the state-authorized Ivy Preparatory Academy in DeKalb.

Recently I heard Nina Gilbert, founder of Ivy Preparatory Academies and Margaret Ciccarelli, Legislative Director of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE), debate the upcoming Charter School Amendment.

After listening to both women speak, I came away with the feeling that Ms. Ciccarelli does not understand the definition of a charter school.

Ciccarelli stated that her child “attends a charter school in a charter system.” System charter schools are created, managed, and assessed by their local districts. They receive flexibility, but no not have to meet higher standards of accountability in exchange for flexibility. If a system charter school fails, it goes back to being a regular district school.

What makes charter schools unique is that:

1) Charter schools are governed by their stakeholders — staff and faculty, parents and community members
2) If a charter school does not meet the stated goals, it closes.

I believe some clarity on the history of Ivy Preparatory Academy will demonstrate to anyone trying to decide how to vote exactly why this Amendment is needed.

Ivy Preparatory Academy has faced hostility from both Gwinnett and DeKalb counties despite its stellar academic performance.

Ivy Preparatory Academy opened in 2008 as a state-chartered special school. The school was later approved in 2009 by the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. After the Georgia Supreme Court declared the law that created the commission unconstitutional, Gwinnett County granted Ivy Prep a one-year charter in 2011.

Halfway through Ivy Prep’s first year, on Jan. 19, the Gwinnett County Board of Education voted to reject extension of Ivy’s charter for the original campus, as well as a proposed new location. Faced with having to close its doors, Ivy Prep Academy appealed to the State Board of Education and was approved for a two-year state charter.

According to the State Board, the two-year charter was granted in order to “give Ivy Prep a chance to make a transition from its current management company to self-management … Ivy Prep has demonstrated strong student achievement despite the unpredictable revenue stream received under each successive charter.”

Although the state approval has kept Ivy Prep open, its per-pupil funding is just $6284.07 per-pupil, compared to $8281.49 (plus per pupil capital funds from state) for all other Gwinnett public school students. Ivy’s $6284.07 per pupil must also cover rent for the building and maintenance, which is not a factor in any other Gwinnett Public School.

Similarly, when Ivy Prep sent an initial draft of a charter petition to DeKalb County, it received a denial letter, citing: “lack of documentation, no history with the county and no evidence of community support.”

School leader Nina Gilbert was shocked by the denial because, she says;

We left the 2 hour interview [with DeKalb County] believing that all questions were answered, and in follow up conversations we were told that no additional info was necessary. The process described in their policy stated that the petitioner would be allowed to respond to or clarify any unclear information. We were not informed of any concerns or additional questions until we received this letter.“

Mrs. Gilbert believes that “no further clarification” was requested because the authorizer, DeKalb County, had no intention of moving the petition forward. Still, she states,

We would have loved the opportunity to collaborate with the DCSS team, correct mistakes, address concerns, and resubmit a plan that met DCSS’ approval, etc, and use this year as the planning year, which is how strong schools open.”

Again, with no option but to petition the state, Ivy Preparatory Academy at Kirkwood was approved by the State DOE to open two K-6 schools, one for girls and another for boys in 2011. Funding per-pupil last year was $6072.72 per pupil for girls, $6116.76 per pupil for boys, which was supplemented to $7363.23 per girl and $7041.99 per boy (this year only) by Governor Nathan Deal. The schools will add one grade level each year, eventually serving K-12 with the mission:

“Within a structured and supportive environment, Ivy Prep develops elementary, middle, and high school students into thoroughly equipped scholars who are prepared to enter and succeed in the colleges and universities of their choice.”

Voting YES for the Charter School Amendment will NOT take funds away from other schools. It will in fact increase funds per pupil because state authorized schools cannot use local property taxes. With your YES vote, state charter schools will be able to operate using considerably less funding than other public schools in the area, which is an increase from the shoestring budget in place now. Ivy Preparatory Academy should serve as a model to all public schools by maintaining successful academic standards despite no support from local school boards and seriously reduced funding.

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10 Responses to Doing More for Students Using Less Money: Another Reason We Need The Charter School Amendment

  1. arroznegro says:

    “Voting YES for the Charter School Amendment will NOT take funds away from other schools. It will in fact increase funds per pupil because state authorized schools cannot use local property taxes.”

    Where will the additional funds come from? Is the state going to increase revenue to fund these schools or will funds be moved from an existing program? I’ve not seen it explained.

  2. Could you be more specific, please? State funds follow the student, whether they are going to a traditional public school or a public charter school. The point is that charter schools spend on educating children, NOT (as DeKalb County Schools does) on inflating adult salaries.

    As far as we know, the only DeKalb County charter schools that receive extra money — in addition to state funding and funding from property taxes (because they are not state-authorized charter schools) are Leadership Prep Academy and Destiny Academy. Leadership Prep Academy is co-located in New Birth Missionary Baptist Church with another school run by New Birth that serves the same grade levels. Leadership Prep pays an exorbitant rent to New Birth along with other charges. Destiny Academy is located in a facility that formerly belonged to DeKalb County Schools but was sold to New Birth. New Birth now collects rent from Destiny Academy.

    From the Lease Commitment Agreement addressed to [new DCSS board member] Melvin Johnson from New Birth for Leadership Prep Academy:

    “Effective August 2010, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church agrees to lease it’s [sic] West Wing and cafeteria to Leadership Preparatory Academy for $122,050 per school year plus maintenance/repairs, gas, electric, telephone, security and insurance. The exact amount of these items will be determined prior to the execution of the final lease agreement. There will be a 3% annual increase in rent with each subsequent year.”

    Based on the above, the current rent, alone, for Leadership Prep Academy for School Year 2012-2013 is $133,367. That doesn’t include maintenance/repairs, utilities, security, insurance, etc named above.

    Leadership Prep Academy is in the Adult Sunday School Wing of New Birth which means Leadership Prep does not have sole access to the areas of the building that they lease. We also cannot find any space on the New Birth floor plan that is designated as a “Cafeteria.” Finally, the lease actually began June 1, 2010 (NOT August 2010), BEFORE the approval was signed by the State Board of Education on June 8, 2010. It was a 5-year lease. All those who think the lease would have been voided by New Birth if a last-minute problem with obtaining State Board approval had cropped up, raise your hand. Uh-huh.

    And all those who have issues with “for-profit” companies getting involved with charter schools, please explain further.

  3. howdy1942 says:

    As I’ve said before, I reluctantly voted for Amendment 1. I wish that we had a public school system that was efficiently managed, responsive to our residents, and enjoyed widespread support in our community. Sadly, that has not be true for years.

    I’ve been impressed by Nancy Jester – she seems to really have her act together and is trying to make some positive changes. I’m also encouraged that Womack, Bowen, and McChesney will no longer be on the Board as of January. But that isn’t quite enough – Walker will continue to be the Chairman and Cunningham and Copelin-Wood will continue to be members of the Board. I don’t know what the others will bring to the Board – maybe that could be good. Nor do I know what the composition of the 7-member Board will look like.

    The point is that we now have the opportunity to have another option – charter schools. Since the current School Board leadership has shown no sign of being willing to reach out to the community, admit that it has done some things wrong, and presented actions that it will be taking to improve the school system, we need to find an alternative. This Board had not kept its commitments (specifically the information leak on the recent Superintendent hiring process), it continues to deny that there is anything wrong in what the Board is doing, and it remains defiant even given the numerous SACS investigations and widespread outrage within the community. Dekalb County needs leadership that will find common ground to bring the whole county – North, Central, and South – together. It needs to set aside any personal agenda.

    In other blogs, comments have been made about the very brief time the current Superintendent spent in forum meetings with the community before turning the proceedings over to her subordinates. She needs to step in front of the people, listen to their comments, made sure that she understands their issues and concerns, and respond. Her subordinates should take good notes.

    I hope that we are about to turn the corner in Dekalb County and improve our schools, our administration, our property values, and engender respect and support from all the stakeholders.

  4. Just wondering why Walker will continue to be the Chairman? I do not know how slecting a chairman works. Also, considering the trainwreck that is the DeKalb County School System, I would say Ivy is lucky to have dodged a bullet when DCSS rejected Ivy.

  5. realityscout says:

    My issue with for profit charter businesses taking over schools is the exact same issue this blog has with Dekalb’s current state of affairs wherein people are using available money meant for the education of our children to enrich themselves and their friends and family. This attempt through out of state money pouring in from privately owned public school advocates is currently enriching campaign coffers of those elected officials that also allowed subversive ballot language to trick the public into voting yes.
    Where is the goodness in any of that? How can this inauspicious beginning instill trust for the outcome?

  6. dekalbinsideout says:

    Realityscout
    [Charter businesses] are using available money meant for the education of our children to enrich themselves and their friends and family. – Who cares as long as they are providing a better education. If they are not providing a better education then they fail and close.

    subversive ballot language – agreed … that some home court cookin’

    Out of state money pouring in from privately owned public school advocates – Yes, let’s look at some of these donors …

    $250,000 donated by the widow of the GAP who has nothing to do with the issue other than supporting charter schools nation wide.

    The list goes on to include heirs to Walmart, Home Depot, and GA Pacific.

    And don’t forget The Friedman Foundation – The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Inc., is the legacy foundation of Milton and Rose Friedman and the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, which was established in 1996 to promote universal school choice as the most effective and equitable way to improve the quality of K-12 education in America.

  7. psdad says:

    @ realityscout
    Your comment …”My issue with for profit charter businesses taking over schools is the exact same issue this blog has with Dekalb’s current state of affairs wherein people are using available money meant for the education of our children to enrich themselves and their friends and family.”

    For profit companies only enrich themselves if their cost of service is less than the revenue, so these companies have an incentive to operate as efficiently. These companies only attract new customers (students) if they are delivering a service (education) that is more desirable than the alternative (DCSS) and if they fail they are shut down. Until now, DCSS and GA schools didn’t have to face competition for state funding and didn’t have an incentive to operate as efficiently as possible. If the charter schools amendment passes, DCSS is going to be forced to compete for these customers and these dollars by operating as effectively as the competition.

  8. howdy1942 says:

    @psdad

    You make a very good point!! It is absolutely amazing what competition brings. I was part of AT&T when the Courts ordered the breakup of the company. At that time, sending 4800 characters per second over the network was deemed fast. Look at what has happened in communications – the Internet, the merger of voice, video, and data, smartphone, tablets, and on and on. After AT&T, I worked at a for-profit college. Yes, they want to make a profit. But they also demand excellence in the classroom. Outstanding performers are rewarded. Unsatisfactory performers either improve or leave. There is no tenure. They are result-oriented.

    The days are numbered for the public school system as it is managed and administered in Dekalb County. Competition for students and dollars will force improvement and efficiency. The for-profit at which I worked focused on the classroom and minimized administration. It was highly computerized, structured, and automated. If a for-profit does not produce results, then it doesn’t make money and it will go away.

    The current School Board conducts itself as a monopoly business. It does what it wants to do, spends as much money as it wants for whatever it wants, hires administrators that it does not need, hires people to perform the functions of other that have failed while “reassigning” the existing people to trivia jobs, but paying them their old salary. We end up paying at least twice for each job.

    Again, I had hoped that this School Board would admit its mistakes, make changes, and do better. It has not and remains defiant in believing that it is doing a great job. We the People need to make some changes and one of the few avenues available to us is Charter Schools that are not subject to veto by the School Board.

  9. decaturparent says:

    DeKalb school BOE members have failed us horribly! I believe that Nancy Jester is the ONLY BOE member that will stand up for what I believe in….schools that will change the status quo! Vote YES!

  10. realityscout says:

    psdad:
    It’s not about success so much as taking the money and running. And the money is flowing as we speak, believe me. The people pushing this nonsense will profit one way or another.
    http://www.theledger.com/article/20121028/NEWS/121029329/1374?p=all&tc=pgall&tc=ar
    A bit of the article:
    “A failed Florida charter school’s principal is getting a $519,000 departure payment, and that has some state lawmakers outraged.
    An evaluation by the Orange County School District shows NorthStar High School’s directors paid Principal Kelly Young more than twice as much as they spent on teachers and students in the 2011-12 school year.
    The Orlando Sentinel reported that Young received $824,000 in taxpayer funds. That includes the departure payment but not money she’s still getting for winding down the school’s operations. Meanwhile, the school spent $366,042 on instruction, including teacher salaries last year. ”

    AJC has an interesting article up on the disparity between public and charter schools service of poor children that includes several things to think about before you tap that yes screen and vote for class and color segregation in our schools.
    http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/data-show-relatively-fewer-students-in-poverty-ser/nSwh7/

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