Smyrna Academy of Excellence couldn’t get the votes it needed from the Cobb County School Board for its charter at Thursday’s meeting.
Post 2 Board Member Tim Stultz, who represents Smyrna, made a motion to reject . However, the motion could not get the votes it needed from the board even with the support of Post 1 Board Member Lynnda Eagle and Post 5 Board Member David Banks.
Several board members praised the petition, but raised concerns over issues like special education instructors and classroom resources. Ultimately, board members said the decision came down to finances.
“Quite frankly my struggle with this is separating the passion and the facts,” said Post 3 Board Member David Morgan who represents south Cobb. “The numbers don’t add up. The superintendent and his administrators are saying that it is not a sound financial plan to sustain this school.”
The superintendent and his administration recommended earlier this week to deny SAE its charter petition. The petition was reviewed by the facilities, financial services, legal, office of accountability, curriculum and instruction and special student support departments. At the meeting Thursday, Hinojosa said no department head recommended approval of the charter.
Janet Rau, SAE’s interim leader, explained to the board that the school had gotten letters of support from local businesses and citizens who pledged donations totaling about $600,000. SAE’s Board Chairman Jimmy Arispe added that the governing board planned to pursue grants after it received its charter.
Post 6 Board Member Scott Sweeney asked Arispe how much money SAE had in its reserves. Arispe told him $5,000.
“It concerns me that we have an escalating cost environment with an unknown revenue structure and potentially future budgetary issues that we’re going to experience,” Sweeney said. “If what happens and I certainly hope this doesn’t happen we may very well have declining revenues in our accounts as we’ve experience year to year.”
However, Banks thought the board should approve the charter while they still had a say in the matter. , a piece of legislation that would give the state the right to create charter schools, is on the ballot this November. If passed, the state could decide to grant SAE it’s charter and set the terms of the district's involvement.
“If it’s approved by the state they’re going to pull the money out of Cobb County anyway,” he said. “But SAE would not be accountable to this board at all.”
Another concern raised by the superintendent and Cobb County staff was that the school did not have the backing of a charter management organization. Hinojosa noted that Cobb County’s three charter schools all had the backing of a charter management organization when they were formed and still lost money their first year.
Stultz countered that SAE’s plan to operate without charter management organization was a positive.
“I think that may have exhibited a large problem to begin with. I also look at what International Academy of Smyrna did recently and they disassociated themselves with their parent company (…) I think that’s what this startup charter is looking to do.”
But these arguments weren’t enough to sway a majority of the board. After he vote Eagle offered advice to SAE’s supporters.
“I just want to say to the petitioners, I hope that you will continue,” she said. “Don’t give up, go back, see what needs to be done, dialogue and try.”
Read More About Smyrna Academy of Excellence on Smyrna-Vinings Patch: