Four Georgia senators, including Chip Rogers, the Senate majority leader, and six state representatives, have notified the Fulton County Board of Education that they disagree with its Dec. 20 decision to deny a charter renewal.
The school board voted unanimously to deny the contract extension of the Fulton Science Academy Middle School, which recently received in Washington from the U.S. Education Department a national Blue Ribbon School of Excellence award for its academic achievements.
“The ramifications of closing this school have far reaching negative effects for all of Georgia,” reads the letter dated Dec. 22. “The news will go nationwide very quickly and add to the list of educational black marks similar to the city of Atlanta and Clayton County schools.
Atlanta’s school system is undergoing an investigation concerning systematic cheating on test scores in the city’s public schools. Clayton County’s school system lost accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 2008 due to the operations of the school board. Accreditation was fully restored in May.
By refusing to renew the Fulton Science Academy Middle School charter, the legislators said that two other charter schools financially tied to the academy due to bonds already issued would be forced to close.
“We have a legal opinion and confirmation from the state of Georgia that your board does have the power and authority to accept the resubmitted petition immediately that meets all of Dr. Robert Avossa’s requirements and demands for approval,” says the letter referring to the school board’s superintendent.
At its Dec. 20 meeting, the board denied the academy’s petition by a vote of 7-0 because the academy did not meet the school system’s requirement for a three-year charter term and complete transparency of all of its financial dealings.
“I’m sad that we’ve arrived at this decision and were not able to reach an agreement. This is very unfortunate; however, the board must always consider its obligation of being good stewards of taxpayer dollars. It would be fiscally irresponsible for our board to approve a 10-year term that would divide the renewal process for three schools with shared financial obligations,” said Board President Linda Schultz in a statement posted on the board’s website.
The school system required a three-year term so that the school would be at the same renewal cycle as its affiliate schools, Fulton Sunshine Academy and Fulton Science Academy High School.
It also was critical because the middle school’s governance board recently entered into an $18 million loan agreement with the other two schools to build a shared campus, making all three schools responsible for the loan’s repayment over the next 30 years.
To safeguard financial stability, the schools need to be on the same renewal cycle since they have a mutual financial obligation, according to the board’s statement.
The legislators, however, request that the board’s decision be “reassessed.”
“Denying the Fulton Science Academy a charter renewal and holding a hard line is not the right answer,” the legislators’ letter says. “Failure is not an option. We cannot think of a better way to start the New Year than everyone reassessing this decision and working together without emotion to solve this problem.”
The school initially was approved in 2001 when it was launched by a core group of Turkish Americans seeking to establish a rigorous math and science curriculum. That contract was renewed in 2006. It is to expire on June 30, 2012.
Charter schools opened by Turkish Americans have come under increased scrutiny nationally due to allegations that they are influenced by followers of Fethullah Gulen, a charismatic Turkish preacher of a moderate brand of Islam
However, out of the 60 Fulton Science Middle School faculty members, about 10-15 are Turkish/Turkish-American. Also the student body only contains only 20 Turkish-Americans at most and has a highly diverse student body as well as faculty making the concern about outside influence hardly relevant.
The letter was signed by Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers of Woodstock, Sen. John Albers of Roswell, Sen. Judson Hill of Marietta, Sen. David Shafer of Duluth, Rep. Chuck Martin of Alpharetta, Speaker Pro-tem Jan Jones of Milton, Majority Whip Edward Lindsey of Atlanta, Rep. Joe Wilkinson of Sandy Springs, Lynne Riley of Johns Creek and Wendell Willard of Sandy Springs.