Charter School Parents Claim State Board of Education Was Misled
But the state responds that it had all the information requested from and offered by Fulton Science Academy Middle School.
A day after the state Board of Education refused to grant a charter to Fulton Science Academy Middle School, 100 or more individuals identifying themselves as FSA parents accused state employees and the Board's own charter committee of having "intentionally impeded, stonewalled and misrepresented FSA."
Louise Erste, director of the Charter Division at the state Department of Education was singled out.
"I believe Erste misinformed and misled the Board down a path that was politically motivated and unfair," was one of the complaints.
These claims are similar to what has been said in comments made on articles and a letter to the editor on Roswell and Alpharetta-Milton Patch.
Patch user "Terry" made a related complaint on May 8, after the denial recommendation by the state Charters Division was revealed: "The amount of fires they have had to put out due to inaccurate information and unsubstantiated rumors from the FCSS and now from Mr. Erste at the state level, is incredible. It is easy to make baseless claims without knowing all of the information," the comment stated in part.
The state DOE responded that Erste did not misinform or mislead the board. "Every document the school submitted since January 19, including the full application and supplemental materials, additional information requested from or offered by the school (including the May 4 letter and 4-inch binder), and most of the email traffic with the school was made available to the SBOE beginning in January," the response states.
It continues saying that Erste's job is to share with the SBOE the analysis of the 20-plus Department staff who reviewed the application over the past four months, including the Charter Schools Division, the CFO and his team, the General Counsel and her team, and the Operations chief and her team, as well as numerous senior managers who reviewed the materials independently on a regular basis.
Also in response to criticism from parents, the state shared facts the state Board of Education used to make its decision include that the school’s governing board:
- Failed to agree to the changes FCS said last fall would yield charter approval (including significant changes to the school's governing board).
- Sold bonds before it had a new charter.
- Bought land and began construction before it had obtained the site approval necessary to ensure the location was safe.
- Did not fully cooperate with the Fulton County School auditors.
- Submitted two unqualified CFO resumes.
- Failed to provide full details on the $19 million in bond proceeds when specifically asked to do so.
And the state worried that approving the charter application would subject it to lawsuits if the school defaulted on its $19 million bond issue. Those concerns started with news that Fitch Ratings downgraded the bonds, which that agency said were issued after investors were told a 10-year charter approval by Fulton County was assured even though there was written documentation that a 10-year charter approval was not certain at the time.
Fulton County Schools' denial of a charter renewal states that the school system and the school's governing board had been discussing the charter application for months, and Superintendent Robert Avossa's executive summary in the denial recommendation said, "After several months of discussion, we have come to a mutual understanding on all but two items. We have repeatedly indicated that the system will not grant a 10-year contract and will not grant full flexibility from Title 20, commonly termed a 'blanket waiver.'"
The state's response to the deluge of email concludes, "The state cannot take a chance on a school that could close unexpectedly because of governance and financial issues."