In the charter schools discussion of late, I’ve mentioned that charter schools don’t necessarily close when they fail to meet their contractual academic goals.
And we had an example of that today when the Atlanta school board took up the renewal of Atlanta Preparatory Academy, which has fallen far short of its academic goals and is among the city’s lowest performing schools.
On top of that, the charter school owes its management company $800,000, according to the board discussion.
Despite the school’s financial challenges and poor performance — it ranks in the bottom 20 percent in academic performance statewide — the Atlanta school board didn’t act on a staff recommendation to deny Atlanta Prep’s charter renewal and even discussed extending the school a five-year contract.
Last month, Atlanta released new data showing how many months of learning students averaged at each of its school in a year’s time. In a year of school, Atlanta Prep only added 6.9 months of learning, one of the lowest tallies for an elementary school.
Superintendent Davis lists reasons why APA’s renewal is in question. Some of the reasons include, but are not limited to, the fact that Atlanta Preparatory Academy failed to make AYP last year and in terms of the school’s financial performance – the school owes over $800,000 to the company that manages it.
Board member Byron Amos: I would like to pull this from the agenda and place this on the agenda for the January meeting.
Allen Mueller, APS Executive Director of Innovation: The fact that they were unaware of their performance is a reflection of their poor management. Schools are about more than test scores, but there is a point at which we have to look at test scores. If we defer this to January, the data won’t change and parents will be waiting six or seven months to find out the fate of their school from the state.
Board member Reuben R. McDaniel: So if we delay it 30 days we will probably miss the timeline with the state for parents to find out the fate of their school before May or June?
Board member Brenda Muhammad: What if I were to amend your motion to instead give them a one-year charter?
Allen Mueller, Executive Director of Innovation: It is my opinion that the state board would not approve a one-year extension for the school based on my experience and their performance. It’s never easy to close a school. When we make this decision, we look at some of things like the performance of this school versus other schools in the area.
BOE member Courtney English questions whether or not this is a bad precedent to set. ”What precedent are we now setting. If we are willing to set such a precedent as a board, how do we do that strategically in the future. Are we just going to give everyone one year to fix what is wrong….a very slippery slope.”
2.03 – Atlanta Preparatory Academy denial has been moved off of the consent agenda.
Brenda Muhammad: I would like to move that we defer action on APA for a year.
Reuben R. McDaniel: I don’t think we can do that. The action is to deny the renewal. What we would be doing is taking action to have a one year…
Brenda Muhammad: I would like to….
Erroll Davis: If I get the sense you would like to grant them a one year renewal….
Brenda Muhammad: I would like to an offer of renewal for one year to Atlanta Preparatory Academy (motion made)
Board member LaChandra Butler Burks: Even with this recommendation of one year, are we asking for something in particular for something to be done during that one year? This still has to go to the state board…..I’m trying to figure out what it is you think we are doing to give them one year vs. five years.
Brenda Muhammad: I am willing to give them five years.
Allen Mueller: Right now we have 3.5 years of data for them. They opened a year late. They are asking for another year so we can have another year of data. As to how we proceed, that is a good question. They did not write a one-year application. We would have to confer with the state board with one year vs five years.
Erroll Davis: We have no ability to say what has happened in a year, we can only look at what has happened. If you were to extend for year we would have to write the contract with some type of performance parameters. We could extend the current performance parameters but they have not been able to meet that. We could come up with new parameters, but we would have to put something in the contract to address that.
Cecily Harsch-Kinnane: It is our responsibility to hold charters responsible when we can, which is the renewal process. The only thing about the one year and the 3.5 years, is if they were supposed to make a certain amount of progress within 3.5 years, even if they have five years, if they haven’t made that progress….
Allen Mueller: We have been looking at growth as well, using CRCT data. They are either in the middle or far below in every category. Their goal is 2 points growth per year which is not aggressive. Drew and KIPP have 3 points set as a goal. No reason to believe that their growth will change in a year, however it is possible. We have to look at what we have in front of us. We have to look at where this charter is at three years. We expect things to be rocky, but if you look at comparative data from year 1 and year 3, grades 3-8 in all subjects, they had 15 opportunities to go up…they went down in 10. It would be wonderful if they would increase, but that is the data we have.
Erroll Davis: In the document in front of us they have requested a five- year charter. What they asked for at the microphone was a one month delay in action. Which is not the motion on the floor.
Allen Mueller: We are also concerned that the school owes over $800,000 to the company with which it contracts for it’s charter, Mosaica. When you hire a management company the question for the board is how do you oversee that company so that it delivers. Mosaica has not delivered what it has promised it would do. The school does have an independent board that is very capable, but there is some conflict with the company.
Brenda Muhammad: I think I read somewhere that the company is working out an arrangement with the school.
Mueller: For the school to be the debtor to the contractor that provides front office, back office and financial services is highly unusual.
Reuben R. McDaniel: We have a motion on the floor for a one-year renewal.
Vote taken. Fails.
Byron Amos makes a motion to pull this item and place on January agenda to give the school their 30 days as requested. Butler Burks amends and asks for information in January on what it means to do a one- year renewal vs a five-year renewal.
Mueller: State Board allows for five year and 10 year renewals, but they have made exceptions as has the board.
Davis: Would you also add that within that 30 days that we would receive additional information from APA as to whether a special exception could be made?
Butler Burks: Yes
Vote taken on Butler Burks amendment to the motion (more information given to BOE that might open doors to reconsider the five year as well as finding out if a one year can be considered by the state).
After reading the transcript of today’s meeting, APS watchdog and forensic accountant Jarod Apperson wrote me a note sharing his concerns over the process under which the school board evaluates charter school performance:
From this transcript, I didn’t get the impression that board members treated this seriously or were very well versed in the school’s operations, charter, or performance. There doesn’t seem to have been any well-informed debate around whether to renew. Given that this school is so far behind most APS charters on tests, I find that odd.
Are board members visiting schools up for renewal prior to votes? Shouldn’t we be expecting them to? I think board members showing up once every five years to check in on things before renewing is the least we should expect.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog