Smyrna Academy of Excellence has one more chance to receive the Cobb County School Board's approval of its charter petition, but the board has a few reservations.
At their work session last week, board members voted unanimously to give the school’s governing board till end of business Monday, June 18 to submit clarifying documents concerning the proposed school’s facilities and budget. This decision came a week after CCSD staff recommended that the board deny the school’s charter petition.
At last week’s work session members of SAE’s governing board addressed some of the school board’s concerns. Tim Stultz, Post 2 board member who represents Smyrna, said he’s more inclined to vote to grant the school its charter after hearing from the governing board.
“I would have to say I’m leaning more toward supporting than not supporting after what I heard on Wednesday,” he said. “I want to make sure that the responses that SAE gave to the administration were legitimate responses. They changed their budget around, I think with the facility that was a major sticking point as well. I wanted to see after all of that was put back together and reconsidered whether that changes the administration’s point of view. At this point after what I’ve heard I’d lean more toward the support of it, but I’d like the administration to be able to support it as well.”
Chicken Before the Egg
One of the school board’s reservations about granting SAE a charter was that the there wasn’t enough funding to get the school off the ground. But Janet Rau, interim school leader, said SAE is eligible for a $10 million Race to the Top Innovation Fund grant that is contingent upon the school’s charter.
Race to the Top grants are provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. According to the Georgia Department of Education “the funds are made available in the form of competitive grants to encourage and reward states that are creating conditions for education innovation and reform, specifically implementing ambitious plans in four education reform areas.”
“So it’s this crazy chicken and egg scenario and that’s what we’re trying to explain to the board,” Rau said. “In our application we can’t say that we’ve got $10 million because we can’t get the $10 million without the charter. They’re talking about financials, that they’re doubting our ability to get the charter done for financial reasons.”
Rau said that SAE was the only charter school that had applied for the $10 million Race to the Top grant when the application period closed.
“Once we get the approved charter, it sounds like we’re pretty much shoo-in for the $10 million (…) If we do not get a charter and no one else has applied for that $10 million in funding, the result could be that that $10 million goes back to the federal government since Georgia was unable to find someone to give it to,” she said.
Location, Location, Location
Board members were also concerned because SAE had yet to determine a location for their school.
“I think without a specific budgeted item for the facility because without an actual facility that shows a possible lease agreement, I think it’s hard for the administration to look at the budget and know that’s what the facility costs are going to be,” Stultz said.
Pete BeBuys, a SAE board member said that the governing board made the decision not to release information about the buildings they were interested in renting or purchasing for the school because once the information becomes public record, negotiations have to be done in public.
“We have three former big box retailers along the East West Connector,” Rau said. “So as you’re driving up East-West Connector you’re going to pass the buildings that we’re looking at.”
The school board will vote whether to approve SAE's charter petition at its meeting Thursday, June 28. If approved the charter petition will then go to the state board of education. Rau said pending the Cobb County School District’s approval, SAE’s governing board does not expect to hear the final word on the charter until September or October.
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