Senoia to gets its charter school

Thu, 12/17/2009 - 4:40pm
By: Ben Nelms

The process that began in early 2009 came to fruition this week when the Georgia Charter Schools Commission gave its approval for Florida-based Charter Schools USA to open a K-8 charter school in Senoia. Those affiliated with the proposal cited significant community support as the reason for the commission’s decision. The school is expected to open next August.

Though supported by significant numbers of parents in Senoia and east Coweta, the petition by Charter Schools USA to establish the school was turned down June 25 by a unanimous vote of the Coweta County School Board. Charter Schools decided to proceed without the school board’s support and present the charter school petition to the Georgia Charter Schools Commission for consideration. The announcement that the commission had approved the Senoia school and six others around the state came Monday.

“I’m glad it happened,” was the response by Senoia Mayor Robert Belisle on hearing the news that the school had been approved.

Commenting Monday night on the commission’s decision, Charter Schools USA Vice President of Operations Richard Page said it was the continuing efforts of the community that was instrumental in the school’s approval.

“Don’t underestimate the community influence that pulled this through,” said Page. “Community support was the difference in our approval. The people who worked so hard made the difference. Now they’re going to get their school.”

Charter Schools USA Georgia representaive Danny Brewington agreed, acknowledging the months-long efforts of interested parents and others in the community in sticking with idea of having the school established.

“This is a clear demonstration of a groundswell of community support. It’s the main reason why the commission overturned the (Coweta) Board of Education and approved our petition. The community demanded it,” Brewington said.

Charter Schools USA has property under contract at Ga. Highway 16 and Crook Road near Ga. Highway 85 on Senoia’s southeast side. Page said the K-8 school will open in August and will support up to 860 students. At a cost of approximately $10 milllion to construct, the school will bring approximately 75 jobs to the Senoia area. Page noted that no public dollars will be used for the school’s construction.

The Senoia school will be a public school with no tuition and open to countywide enrollment. The school will be part of the Coweta school system with annual funding from public dollars. It will be required to maintain accountability to the county and state for results. Charter schools are tied to Georgia Performance Standards.

Page said that one of the goals for the school includes expanding it to grades K-12.

One of the charter school’s most avid supporters has been Senoia resident and Riverwood Studios co-owner Scott Tigchelaar.

“This is a great day. We’ve been trying to get a charter school since I moved here in 2003,” said Tigchelaar. “This gives parents in Coweta a choice. And that can’t do anything but raise the bar.”

Page and Brewington said the application for the charter school had the signatures of numerous residents and were accompanied by community leaders that supported the effort.

“The city leadership and (Sen.) Mitch Seabaugh are worthy of recognition. Their support helped deominstrate the need for the school,” Brewington said. “It was a full deck of support.”

One of those city leaders was Senoia Councilman Larry Owens who also weighed in on the charter school petition approval Monday.

“This came about as a result of a lot of work from concerned citizens, legislators and the city who worked to have this happen. It was a real group effort. They got behind the folks who wanted to build a quality school. I think it’s feather in the cap of Senoia,” Owens said.

State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox within hours of the commission’s approval Monday cited her support for the state’s new charter schools.

"I fully support high-quality charter schools because they give choices to parents and students and also come with the same accountability as all public schools. After the approval of seven new Commission charter schools today, it is apparent that the Commission used a rigorous process to ensure that quality public school options continue to be available for Georgia school children. We look forward to working with the Commission to ensure that these new schools achieve the rigorous student achievement goals set forth in their charters," Cox said.

The Coweta County School Board at its June 25 meeting denied the petition based on 11 concerns. Prior to the unanimous vote, Chairman Steve Bedrosian in a prepared statement said, “I’ve been approached by many constituents in my districts about Charter Schools in Senoia. On the surface I think the charter academy is a good idea. However, given the possibility of outside charter schools coming into Coweta County in the future, as a board member, I have an obligation. And I do not want to start a precedent of voting for a petition that does not meet the letter of the (Georgia) Charter School Act. I have to vote against that petition. I want to make it clear, I’m not voting against the Georgia Charter Foundation or a charter school in Senoia. Upon the filing of a new petition that meets the requirements of both state and federal rules I will certainly consider it.”

Page after the school board’s decision said he was disappointed with the vote, adding that his company would continue to pursue the petition.

“We’re frustrated and disappointed with the outcome of the vote. We thought we had a stronger position than (the school board) did,” he said. “We’re not giving up. We believe the community demonstrated support for a charter school and we’ll fight to get one. We’re not giving up on a charter school in Senoia and we’ll likely go before the commission.”

Under Georgia law, a charter school is a public school that operates according to the terms of a charter, or contract, that has been approved by a local board of education and the state Board of Education (BOE). The charter school may request waivers from provisions of Title 20 of Georgia state law and any state or local rule, regulation, policy, or procedure relating to schools in the school district. In exchange for this flexibility, the charter school is bound by contract and held accountable for meeting the performance-based objectives specified in the charter, according to Georgia Dept. of Education (DOE).

A traditional public school is organized according to federal laws, state school laws, state BOE rules and local board of education policies. A charter school is organized according to federal laws, applicable state school laws and BOE rules that cannot be waived and the terms of the charter contract, according to DOE. Georgia currently has more than 70 charter schools in operation.

Charter schools are public schools. The Georgia Charter Schools Act of 1998 states that a charter school shall be included in the allotment of funds to the local school system in which the charter school is located. The local board and state board will treat the charter school no less favorably than other local schools in the school district with respect to the provision of funds for instructional and school administration and, where feasible, transportation, food services, and building programs. The amount of money the charter school will receive from the local board will be determined according to the provisions of the Charter Schools Act of 1998, according to DOE.

In addition, charter schools receive federal funds for special education services and for other categorical program services to the extent to which any pupil is in the charter school is eligible to participate. If additional revenues are needed, the charter school must garner those dollars through independent means.

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