Regular Get Schooled blog readers know Cherokee businessman John Konop as an astute commenter on the economics of education. He’s also a great debater as he focuses on the facts and does not get carried away with politics or ideology.
And he posts under his name, which signals that he stands behind his comments.
Konop has sparked debate in Cherokee County over questions on the funding of a charter school there and who gets stuck with the bill. Konop raised these issues with the Cherokee County School Board at a recent meeting.
Here is a followup letter he sent board member Michael Geist:
Dear Mr. Geist,
According to a recent newspaper article, it seems you are still very confused about why you’re getting so much negative feedback about the lack of fiscal controls in the charter school amendment that you support. I will once again clarify the issues by explaining how the Cherokee Charter Academy (CCA) was funded and how the current charter school amendment fails protect tax payers.
• CCA’s owner/operators (a private company) were given over $1million of taxpayer money as start-up capital.
• CCA’s owner/operators receive a management contract that pays them close to $1 million a year (a rate that is higher on a percentage basis than what Cherokee County currently spends on our public schools). These funds are above and beyond the additional, regular operating money that charter schools receive from the school district.
• CCA’s owner/operators were not required to purchase a guaranteed bond (a form of insurance) that pays the school district in the event the CCA closes midyear (and dumps over 1,000 students back into the system).
If the CCA goes out of business — which looks increasingly likely — its owner/operators get to keep the $1 million start-up capital (and/or whatever assets they bought with it) and have no liabilities. You supported giving a private company over a million dollars, guaranteed profit, and NO downside risk.
This is a terrible deal for taxpayers. You should NOT support forcing taxpayers to capitalize private companies or give them no-obligation government contracts. As a public school board member, your duty is to protect the school’s assets, not look for creative ways to squander them.
The taxpayers of Cherokee County have already been burned with similar deals. For example, we may lose $50 million that went to fund a private recycler that went bust (leaving taxpayers again holding the bag). As you well know, taxpayers across the country have already lost massive amounts of money in poorly structured charter schools deals. For the record, I support charter schools and believe they play an important and positive role in our education system. What I do not support is officeholders like you that make foolish and emotional decisions with taxpayer money.
In closing, Mr. Geist, here are some questions that the taxpayers of Cherokee County would like your answers to:
•Please list all the other school district services that a vendor can perform where taxpayers provide free start-up capital and guaranteed revenue, all with no penalty for failure to perform. Assuming you can’t provide such a list, why did you support the private owner/operators of the Cherokee Charter Academy receiving such a deal?
• Why do you support a charter amendment that does not include the taxpayer protections needed to prevent CCA-like deals from happening again?
–From Maureen Downey for the AJC Get Schooled blog