Deny FSA’s state charter?

Yesterday saw yet another setback for the embattled Fulton Science Academy Middle School. The Georgie Department of Education recommend the state deny their application for a charter. At this point the best coverage of this issue can be found at this article on The Patch. Also read the four page letter that outlines the reason for the negative recommendation.

Here are a few random thoughts on this continuing saga…

It’s time to resign - Hatcher Hurd over at the Revue & News wrote a great column on the FSA shortly after the county rejected the FSA charter. His opinion was very close to mine. At that time he called for the board to resign, something I thought was overkill. I’m beginning to think Hatcher was right.

This is a touchy thing to say but… FSA’s administration and board are inept. They have bungled this entire process. They’ve also bungled the construction project. Look at the BOE notes as well as Fitch’s latest bond downgrade and read between the lines. It might be too late to make a difference, but heads should roll. Parents should demand it.

Approve or reject the charter? - I don’t know. Before yesterday I would have said yes, renew it for a short duration with a ton of oversight stipulations. This would be least disruptive to the students, parents, staff, and bond investors. However, after reading the letter it seems that FSA hasn’t made any progress towards better governance and oversight in the last several months.

Charter Schools - I continue to support the concept of charter schools. They are the closest thing we have to school choice right now. Don’t view my criticism of FSA as a rejection of the charter school idea.

Gulen Movement - Some people feel called to help educate children as a response to their faith. For centuries people of my faith have done so, as have Gulen followers. I’ve read about the movement and don’t have a  problem with it. Seriously, I don’t.

I think a few (but certainly not all) FSA opponents are influenced by xenophobia. I see it in the blogs that have linked to my articles. So let me be clear… I don’t have a problem with the Gulen Movement.

Alpharetta’s bond approval - Prospect Park 2 is here. Just drive by the FSA’s now-stalled construction project near Westside and Encore Parkways. It’s a pile of dirt.

The city has some explaining to do. The Alpharetta Development Authority approved the issuance of FSA’s bonds last year. Now before I throw them under the bus let’s remember that we have hindsight that they didn’t at the time. But it would be interesting to learn more about the process the authority follows before approving bonds. Is it a rubber stamp? Did the city check on the charter renewal process? What other due diligence did the Development Authority perform prior to approving these bonds?

I’m going to nominate Michael Cross to answer these questions. He chaired the Development Authority last year when the bonds were approved. Today he’s an elected official – a City Councilman. The citizens deserve an explanation, especially those who live adjacent to FSA’s stalled construction project.

Regrettable - No matter what happens to the Fulton Science Academy, I think we can all agree that this is a most regrettable situation. It has also been a preventable situation. The students deserve better treatment than this.

8 Responses to “Deny FSA’s state charter?”

  1. Michael Cross May 3, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    Lee, Thank you for emailing me regarding the post and allowing me quickly and briefly to respond. I share your thought that this is a regrettable situation, and I feel badly for the students and parents involved.

    I assure you that the issuance of bonds by the Development Authority is not a “rubber stamp” process. During my time on the Authority, we did not issue bonds to everyone who desired financing.

    I devoted substantial time to the Fulton Science Academy application, as did others on the Development Authority board. I was present for and participated in the first two public meetings regarding the application, though the final approval occurred after I resigned from the Authority to run for Council on August 29th last year.

    We reviewed the financial information and other documentation that was presented. During the hearings, we questioned the applicant about the financials and the charter renewal status.

    Quite frankly, I was surprised to learn the final closing of the bond deal had occurred prior to the charter renewal. Based upon the presentations before the Development Authority, our board believed the bond deal would not (and could not) close until charter renewal occurred. We understood this was a condition required by the investors whose money actually was used to fund the bond issue.

    Fortunately, even if a default occurs, neither the City nor the Development Authority have liability. I’m still disappointed, however, and I hope the site doesn’t remain in its current state for long.

  2. Jim Pittman May 4, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

    I think to be fair you should actually demand that the Charter School Division corroborate their claims with actual supporting data or at least specific examples before you just presume the information presented by them is correct. FSA MS always supports its statements and responses with hard data and supplemental materials. They never just expect others to believe them.

    On Monday afternoon, April 30, 2012, FSA MS received a recommendation for denial from the Department of Education Charter School Division. This letter included many inaccurate and/or incomplete statements. The FSA MS Governing Board and staff immediately began to write and compile corroborating data for their response to address the eleven concerns in their entirety.

    Out of respect for the process, the FSA MS Governing Board chose to wait and send one clear unified response to the State Charter Schools Division, their school community, and the public as whole with supporting documentation to corroborate their responses. As they submitted their response to the Charter School Division this morning, they are now in a position to update their community, as well as, the general public and the media.

    As the FSA MS Governing Board is aware that the financial concern is the most pressing, they want everyone to understand that all of $5,780,760.11 has always been accounted for and the corroborating documentation was submitted and is available for review.

    Please see the attached letter summarizing the FSA Governing Board’s response to the DOE recommendation letter. The link below includes all of the supporting documentation for each item.

    http://www.fsamiddle.org/files/Charter/Supplemental_Material_for_FSA_MS_State_Charter_Petition-May-4-2012.pdf

    All documentation of the entire process is on their website for the public to read at will. They strive to be completely transparent.

    The FCSS Charter Petition Process Documents are found at this link http://fsamiddle.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2835&Itemid=216

    The State Charter Petition Process Documents are found at this linkhttp://fsamiddle.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2901

  3. FSA Parent May 8, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    Jim, Lee is being more than fair here.
    You can find corroboration in the Georgia Board of Education’s pdf files at https://eboard.eboardsolutions.com/index.aspx?S=1262 under the Meetings tab. Select the May 10, 2012, Committee of the Whole meeting and look for the school’s name under “Items for Information”.

  4. FSA Dad May 21, 2012 at 7:39 pm #

    I’m curious about Fulton Science Academy’s defenders, those who say anyone seeing Gulenists behind FSA as wearing tin foil hats and being off their meds (what aggressive language!). Are those parents still believers or have any had their eyes opened?

    Lee, you may not have a problem with Gulen, but you seem like an intelligent, reasonable Guy. Have you read the recent article on Gulen in the NYT/International Herald Tribune? Or to learn more, read
    http://balyozdavasivegercekler.com/2012/05/21/why-do-we-accuse-the-gulen-movement/ .

    To see what one well-regarded researcher says about FSA, google “http://balyozdavasivegercekler.com/2012/05/21/why-do-we-accuse-the-gulen-movement/ “. Go to 20:08 to see what she says about FSA.

    And BTW, when multiple copies of a Gulenist publication is left in the “free publications” stacks outside the Alpharetta library, as The Lighthouse was, it makes you think he may have some followers around.

  5. FSA Dad May 21, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    That should read “google ‘Charters, Privatization Of Education & The Gulen Schools In The US: Sharon Higgins Speaks Out’ and watch the youtube video. Go to 20:08 to see what she says about FSA.”

  6. Lee May 22, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

    @Michael Cross – Based on the minutes online, the vote to approve the bonds took place on August 12th, 2011.

    @FSA Dad – Yes, I’ve read the NY Times article and watched the piece 60 Minutes did on Gulen a few weeks ago. They did an awesome job with it. Very fair and objective.

    I reject the notion that the Gulen Movement is some kind of nefarious attempt to indoctrinate children with Muslim teachings. Simply not true.

    Gulen teaches to respond to your faith not by building more mosques but with altruistic service (such as building schools). I have to admit, as a Presbyterian, this notion strikes a chord with me.

    However, does the Gulen movement have a thing to learn about running an open and transparent school? Absolutely.

  7. FSA Proponent May 30, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

    Plenty of blame here for both the Fulton County BOE and the FSA Board. Shame is though, lack of communication between the two organizations has brought the FSA educational experience to an end for the students and familes of Fulton County.

    Full Disclosure — I confess that my opinion of the schools is biased, both of my children attended these schools for at least a portion of their K-12 education. I am disappointed that these two bodies failed to come to an agreement that would have kept the FSA experience open as an option for future students. Forcing the middle school into a private school status will almost certainly mean the end of the line for this organization, and for the student’s who called it their own.

    My two cents, the middle school and high school student body clearly perform far above the Fulton education system average, and FSA high school places the majority of their graduating class into university with the tools in hand to succeed. All for a fraction of the cost per student of any standard Fulton middel or high school.

    All the negative discussion within this blog about Gulen, conspiracy, and Muslim indoctrination sickens me. The video we are asked to view for the opinions of “one well-regarded researcher” is sad and pathetic. The speaker is clearly Islam phobic, mentioning within the interview how FSA (by the way a private corporation) purchases consulting and services from other private businesses including Grace Institute, without running a competetive bidding process, and how it is somehow wrong or unfair for them to do it.

    Her claim that FSA management has somehow managed to make $6 million of public money disappear into thin air is absolutely ridiculous. Oh yeah, and don’t forget all the political graft that she claims is taking place. The politicians are not responding favorably to a gift of Turkish dinnerware, their response is based on feedback from local residents and parents who know the difference the school is making in their childrens education.

    So sad, she tries very hard to demonize, but ultimately misses the point — The schools we are discussing in this blog are highly successful in turning out students ready for continued educational success. I have watched the schools performance over the last six years while my children attended and can only shake my head today in disgust as I look toward the an unclear future for FSA.

    In the end, FSA board and management failed to understand their oponent and have been dealt a significant blow to their future expansion plans. Sadly, they will likely not survive the blows.

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