Smyrna Academy of Excellence Reacts to Recommendation to Deny Charter
District officials say the recommendation was largely based on finances.
Supporters of a proposed south Cobb charter school were frustrated and disappointed to learn that Cobb County School District staff recommended that school board members deny their charter petition. The school board will vote on the issue at its meeting Thursday.
Smyrna Academy of Excellence organizers plan for the school to serve students in kindergarten through twelfth grade in south Cobb County with a science, technology, engineering and math-based curriculum. Cobb County Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa said the goal was admirable, but that the recommendation came down to dollars and cents.
“We’ve had three start-up charters (in Cobb County) and all three of them lost money in the first year and all three of them had the financial backing of a charter management organization,” he said. “This group does not have that and they haven’t, in our opinion, planned. There’s only one charter school in the state of Georgia that’s K-12 and they want to start at K-12. That’s very ambitious and we commend them we just don’t think it’s financially viable.”
Jimmy Arispe, SAE’s chairman, outlined the school’s financial plan in a letter to the editor.
“We have financial commitments from individuals for over $583,000 to help start our school,” he said. “Annual donations for over $13,000. We have received grants from 2 different Georgia government agencies in the amount of $58,000 for our school. We are the only school in Georgia to have been awarded 2nd round Race to the Top funds and be invited to apply for third round Race to the Top. Our third round budget will be for approximately $12.9 million and include $10 million in facility funding. Obviously there are quite a few individuals and entities that see the value in our South Cobb County charter school.”
Janet Rau, SAE’s interim leader, said charter school's board members tried to address the Cobb County School Board’s concerns about their financial security by collecting letters of financial support.
“So now we have almost $600,000 of startup capital available to us to buy the tables and chairs,” she said. “I mean what else can we do? That’s why a lot of organizations like ours go to charter management organizations because of that upfront financial cost. Now if we had our charter in hand there are so many fundraising opportunities available to us. They just don’t believe that we can do it and how do you get past that?”
Rau and other parents are also frustrated by what they consider to be a lack of viable options for their children. In a comment posted on this site, Jill Rowland Meisler cited that the middle and high schools her children are zoned for did not meet state testing standards four of the last six years and that the graduation rate is only 65 percent. Rau echoed these frustrations.
“If this charter doesn’t get through, if we don’t get approved as a charter, I don’t see how any charter school could possibly go through Cobb County,” she said. “We really need to have people out there saying we want choice. We want to be able to select the school our children go to.”
The Cobb County School Board will ultimately make the decision whether to grant SAE its charter. SAE supporters addressed some of the board members’ concerns at a work session earlier this month. After that meeting Tim Stultz, Post 2 School Board Member who represents Smyrna, said he was leaning toward a yes vote. However, at this posting he could not be reached for comment after staff recommended denying the petition.
If the board votes to deny SAE its petition, supporters of the school will have the option to reapply for a charter next year, Hinojosa said. Arispe said that regardless of the school district’s decision, SAE board members will hold a community meeting about the school’s future Monday, July 2 at 6 p.m. at Taylor Brawner Park in Smyrna.
Do you think the school district made the right recommendation? Tell us in the comments.
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