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, .

“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. . 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.


Read More About Smyrna Academy of Excellence on Smyrna-Vinings Patch:

David June 27, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think SAE wants to start at K-12. THey want to start at K-6 (maybe k-8? but I think k-6) and build up, one grade per year, until they are K-12. Perhaps a minor detail, but it makes me wonder what other details the Superintendent is glossing over.
Jimmy Arispe June 27, 2012 at 07:13 PM
David, You are exactly correct. SAE would start k-6 and add an additional grade each year thereafter until we reach 12th grade in 7yrs. We clearly communicated this in our charter petition. The district also told the board that we were opening in a "few weeks." We have always been scheduled to open 2013-2014 school year. These aren't minor details and are major examples of the challenges that we face getting our school approved. Thank you for your involvement and support for SAE.
C.J. June 27, 2012 at 09:17 PM
RE: "[Cobb County] 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,..." The Cobb County School District (CCSD) has had to close charter schools in the past, which is highly disruptive to all involved. So, board members are understandably reluctant to grant a charter to any organization that might not have the resources needed to fulfill its obligations. I'm glad to see that the Superintendent is advising the board to err on the side of caution. CCSD is also justified in it's skepticism of any charter school because the evidence shows that in Cobb and elsewhere, charter schools generally don't provide better outcomes than public schools: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Education/2010/0629/Study-On-average-charter-schools-do-no-better-than-public-schools Charters are no silver bullet, and once again, rather than focusing on gimmicks marketed as "choice", we need to come together to focus on what we know works for ALL Cobb students: a) smaller classes, b) more class hours in the day, and c) more class days in the year.
Janet R June 28, 2012 at 12:07 PM
Chris we couldn't agree more. That's why we developed a charter managed by local residents and did NOT hire a Charter Management Organization. The Imagine Schools model (all 3 charters in Cobb) is to start up the school leveraging the company's capital and bury the school in so much debt they become financially tied to the CMO. Kennesaw Charter & Smyrna have both successfully rid themselves of Imagine and are now deemed "successful" charter schools with solid financials in place. We will have longer school days, smaller student:teacher ratios, and a 200 day year round calendar because that is exactly how you impact student achievement and until the BOE comes back to understanding that Charter schools will be the only way to get it. I would love to schools like ours available for all students but that isn't going to happen in the next 5 years. Look at the graduation rates in our South Cobb High Schools, the average SAT scores for these same schools and then take a look at East Cobb. Pebblebrook, Campbell, South Cobb & Osborne are at the bottom of the lists and Walton, Pope, Lassiter & Wheeler are at the top. There are no "gimmicks" in education that work. We have spent the last year working with Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Kennesaw State, Southern Poly and Chatahoochee Tech to create a school focused on getting 100% of the kids in our school successfully on to college. And as a parent and an educator anything less than that is failing.
Smyrna Jonquil June 28, 2012 at 01:08 PM
I agree with your statements Chris. I hate to see board resources being stretched even more thin. I am a teacher in South Cobb and the students we get from the charter schools aren't performing. Let's focus on the schools that we already have in place.


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