Fulton Science Academy – A game of chicken

This is the first of two articles about the charter renewal of the Fulton Science Academy.

It’s been difficult for me to get my hands around the issue of the Fulton Science Academy’s charter renewal. Most issues like this involving children or faith are pretty easy to grasp. Start with something like land use then combine some NIMBY sentiments and a pinch of xenophobia. But FSA’s situation is entirely different with a lot of influencing factors coming into play. Those on both sides of the issue are not afraid of employing emotional appeals or hyperbole to make a point. And in issues like this the truth usually is found somewhere in the middle. So after spending many hours of my Christmas break reading up on this fiasco, I’ve come to the conclusion that FSA’s charter renewal is really just…

A game of chicken

Yep, both sides were plowing ahead at full speed, waiting to see who would swerve first. Unfortunately those along for the ride include several hundred children, their families, taxpayers and a few bond holders. And all of these groups stand to lose big because of it.

“Increasingly volatile and combative relationship”

That’s how the credit rating agency Fitch described things between the FSA and the Fulton County School Board. They made this comment as they were downgrading FSA’s credit rating on their $19 million building bond. The relationship was volatile because each side had a big club to bring to the fight. FSA’s club was their recent Blue Ribbon Award from the Department of Education. Surely the school board would not deny a request from a school with such a high distinction. Armed with this, they asked for a ten year renewal on their charter, the maximum allowed. Additionally they requested a full waiver of Title 20 rules.

FCSB’s big club was a Georgia Supreme Court decision in 2011 that found that the state could not approve charter schools. That authority, according to the court, rests only with county school boards. It makes FSA’s appeal process more difficult. This is the FCSB’s chance to flex its muscle under the new ruling. As such, the Title 20 blanket waiver was off the table and they would only consider a three year charter renewal.

Neither side moved much after months of discussion. The FSA reduced their proposal to eight years but the FCSB made it clear that they would only consider three. Nevertheless, only the eight year proposal was brought before the school board. And at the end of this game of chicken, the FCSB didn’t swerve. Crash! They unanimously voted down FSA’s eight year request.

Both sides have acted poorly. Supporters of the FSA have been out in force claiming that the FCSB wants to shut down an award-winning school. It’s hyperbole pure and simple. It’s clear to me that the FSA wanted to force the school board into making such a vote even though another offer was on the table. Nobody desires to shut down this school.

On the flip side, the FCSB has not acted in good faith since the vote. FSA has relented (finally), agreeing to the three year term. However, the FCSB now will not consider it, saying the matter is closed. I don’t understand why they cannot move to amend or reconsider a matter that was before them. Most deliberative bodies easily have this option available under their rules. It would be best for all parties involved to approve the three year charter renewal and move on.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about why the FCSB is justified in wanting a shorter charter term for the Fulton Science Academy. And as always, there’s an elephant in the room that needs to be discussed. Stay tuned.

3 Responses to “Fulton Science Academy – A game of chicken”

  1. phatnate January 4, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

    As someone who lives within a block of the new proposed campus site on Fanfare Way, can someone explain how they can obtain a permit to clear the lot of all of trees, move the earth all around, erect a fence, and generally tear up the land, when they don’t even have a charter?

  2. Lee January 4, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    That’s a valid question, something I’ll probably touch on in my next article. The short answer is…

    FSA sold $19 million in bonds for the construction with the help of the city of Alpharetta Development Authority. The charter renewal could put the construction in jeopardy if they can’t service the debt. They either need to get this mess straightened out or raise some capital through private donations (something they are working on). Otherwise you’ve got the potential of having a mini Prospect Park in your back yard.

    FSA wants Alpharetta to waive the impact fees for their new building. They were supposed to go before city council last month, the same day as the Amana decision but thankfully they postponed. I doubt the city will agree to eliminate the fees.

  3. Kim January 6, 2012 at 7:16 pm #

    Sounds like they should be fined if they leave a Prospect Park behind. They aren’t endearing people to their case if this is the respect they show their neighbors.

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