Right now … the Georgia Department of Education needs to call a halt to the charter school process in DeKalb County. It is broken. Seriously. Broken.
There is no better illustration of why this needs to happen than last Wednesday’s unanimous vote to approve the “McNair” College and Career Charter Academy or the “DeKalb” College and Career Charter Academy (depending on which part of the cut-and-paste petition you read) vs Thurmond’s recommendation that Druid Hills Charter Cluster (DHCC) be denied – again.
What has Thurmond’s panties in a wad is most likely that the Druid Hills Charter Cluster proposal revealed that DeKalb County Schools (DCS) was siphoning off $11 million that should rightfully have gone to the schools in the DHCC – more specifically to students, teachers and classrooms in DHCC. The students in these schools earned those allotted funds, yet the actual funding the DeKalb administration allocated to the cluster came up short by $11 million.
Because the school district collects money from the state and then allocates it to individual schools according to their own unpublished formula, we suspect that many of these dollars are being spent at the top or allocated to small schools that do not qualify for enough funding to continue to operate as a self-funded individual school. Of course, these are simply guesses and the only true way to find out about spending is to conduct an independent, full forensic audit.
The Truth About Per-Pupil Funding
Here’s what needs to be understood about school funding by all those who scream that charter schools and charter clusters take money away from other schools or poor schools in DeKalb:
- Property tax is assessed based on the supposed market value of the property and any improvements (i.e., a house).
- North DeKalb properties seem to be worth quite a lot more than South DeKalb properties.
- Nevertheless, property tax does NOT stay in the community from which it is received. It all goes into one big bucket. Approximately 70% of that bucket is used to fund schools, leaving 30% to fund all other county government including libraries, the courts, refuse collection, police and fire.
- A per-pupil dollar amount is determined by dividing the number of public school students in DeKalb County into the property tax (approximately 70¢ of every dollar collected) that goes to fund K-12 education.
- Regardless of how poor the community, every community could and should start with the same basic amount of money per student – even if every school in wealthier North DeKalb became a charter school.
- A separate big bucket of money comes in the form of federal Title I funds provided to high poverty schools. DCS has approximately 41 Title I schools.
- South DeKalb schools receive more money per pupil than North DeKalb Schools because very few North DeKalb schools are Title I.
- Confusingly, apparently Title I funds do not follow the student. In fact, students who leave a low-performing Title I school to enroll in a non-Title I magnet or charter school are leaving behind a lot of money and costing the receiving school more money to address the students’ needs and deficiencies. Those needs and deficiencies are not rectified by osmosis, not rectified by sitting in a classroom next to higher performing students.
Charter schools and charter clusters do NOT take money away from public schools that serve poorer communities. In fact, when a student leaves a Title I school to enroll in a charter school or charter cluster more money becomes available to educate the students who stay in the Title I school.
- … Thurmond and the school board members to explain why they cannot get the job done when they really get more money – not less – to educate students in Title I schools.
- … Thurmond and the school board to explain why they begrudge DHCC a level playing field of per-pupil funding when Title I schools automatically get more funding above the per-pupil level.
- … Thurmond and the school board where all the money goes.
Yes, we mean you, Jim McMahan and Marshall Orson, who made the vote unanimous in favor of the poorly planned and executed McNair/DeKalb College and Career Academy petition. Yes, we mean you, Michael Erwin, who voted for McNair/DeKalb and against DHCC even though your own child attends a high-quality DCS charter school. Yes, we mean you, John Coleman, a no-show for board meetings now. Still collecting that paycheck, are you, compliments of your wife?
The Truth About The McNair/DeKalb Charter School Petition
We have read and studied both the DHCC charter petition and the McNair/DeKalb College and Career Academy petition:
- DHCC petition is well-done and should become a model template for a charter cluster. It ticks all the boxes. It should have been approved the first time.
McNair/DeKalb, who received a $50,000 planning grant in 2013 to put together a charter school petition apparently assembled both the charter school petition and the grant application for $3 million to become a college and career academy in fewer than 15 working days. When and where was the $50,000 grant spent?
Among the glaring errors with the McNair/DeKalb petition:
- They can’t decide on a name. Is it the McNair College and Career Charter Academy or is it the DeKalb College and Career Charter Academy?
- The current DCS superintendent sits on the board of this school and used his ex officio school board position to strongly recommend board approval of this school. This was a blatant and unacceptable conflict of interest!
- The full board for McNair/DeKalb was not named, therefore many resumes and conflict of interest forms are missing, including Thurmond’s.
- Their petition promotes dual enrollment with Georgia Perimeter College, NOT with Georgia Piedmont Technical College, McNair/DeKalb’s supposed “partner.”
- It appears that they have an application form which requires an essay (totally a no-no) and suggests the applicant might not be accepted (another total no-no) and a registration form that requires test scores, but does not explain that those test score may not be used to determine admission.
- McNair/DeKalb suggests they will have an extended year. This is not allowed by DCS in their charter school guidelines.
- No noticeable involvement of stakeholders (parents, teachers) in creating this charter school. Nada. None.
- No petitions signed by parents in feeder schools saying that they would send — or even consider sending — their child(ren) to McNair/DeKalb.
- McNair/DeKalb is clearly duplicating the offerings at the Technology North campus (housed within Cross Keys High School) and the DeKalb High School of Technology South. However, oddly, the DHSTS is mentioned twice in the McNair proposal; once when they mention that the two schools under consideration are already owned by DCSS (without actually mentioning DHSTS) and in another place, they include the entire floor plan of DHSTS as part of the proposed school site.
The list above is just a glimpse of the problems with the McNair/DeKalb petition. There is so much that is wrong with this charter petition on so many levels – it can’t even be called a rough first draft.
Perhaps the most egregious error is this:
- McNair/DeKalb will begin their first year serving 8th grade students (no explanation of what this does financially to the middle schools from which these students come).
But, wait – there’s more!
- The College and Career Academy Grant guidelines are clear: to be eligible for the grant, McNair/DeKalb must serve, at a minimum, 11th and 12th It will be 4 years before McNair/DeKalb reaches that point. Therefore, McNair/DeKalb is ineligible for the $3 million grant. Meanwhile, when asked what would happen if McNair/DeKalb did not get the grant, Thurmond said that he would request that the school system fund McNair/DeKalb (which could be a continuing conflict of interest, since he sits on the McNair/DeKalb Charter Board. Who didn’t do their homework – and why?
In a nutshell: Thurmond, in another major conflict of interest, has committed to fund a school that breaks DeKalb County Schools’ own charter school guidelines many times and that was pushed through a last-minute called board vote so it could apply for a $3 million grant for which it is not eligible.