Board of Education says ‘no’ to charter school

Published 3:27 pm Friday, August 17, 2018

During Thursday’s Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Tim Cochran recommended the board deny Spring Creek Charter Academy’s application to establish a charter school in Decatur County.

The board unanimously voted to deny the application.

Spring Creek Charter Academy is a replication of Pataula Charter Academy in Edison, Georgia.

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Cochran presented the Board with a five-page critique on why he believes the charter school would not be beneficial for Decatur County and the surrounding areas.

Cochran’s first concern with the school is its financial state. The CFO of the school has been quoted in financial meetings as saying, “we may have to think about cuts to supplies or services” for FY19. The CFO continued in later meetings to reduce Para positions, delete three percent raises for classified staff members and reduce local supplements of $500 per employee, according Cochran. Cochran also said she cited these changes as a need to make debt payments on a loan and inability to maintain full enrollment. Cochran firmly believes it would be unwise to expand on a school that is already struggling financially and has to cut supplies to students.

Cochran’s second concern is the direct negative impact it would have on the Decatur County School System. The best-case scenario would be losing 100 students, he said, resulting in the loss of four classes with 25 students each. For those 100 students lost, and teachers with them, Decatur County would lose $293,400 in funding. The school would ultimately have to cut services to students or increase the local tax rate, penalizing and financially hurting public school students.

Cochran addressed the idea that charter schools have flexibility in their curriculum, where he believes that is untrue. Both schools are accountable for student growth and academic performance as mandated by standardized test. They also are held accountable for teaching the exact same standards, and failure to meet these school and district performance targets can lead to schools and entire districts falling under the control of the State Board of Education and School Turnaround Officer.

Cochran presented that Spring Creek has said they would have numerous differences in their curriculum and instruction as compared to Decatur County’s traditional classrooms. Cochran took a curriculum Decatur County offers and compared it to Spring Creek and found no evidence of any program or method that Spring Creek uses that they do not already have established.

Cochran’s final difference listed the way the charter school intends to operate. He said he believes Spring Creek operates in a way that excludes the lower levels of socio-economic students. He questions the way the enrollment in their established school is not representative of the area they currently serve.

Georgia Charter Commission has noticed this as well, and during their 2018 review, told the school they needed to increase outreach and marketing for minorities to increase the diversity within the school, said Cochran.

Cochran noted that at its current charter school location, PCA serves a free and reduced lunch rate for 64 percent of students, yet the counties surrounding them have a reduced lunch rate higher than 95 percent. The reason could be because those who are most in need are still struggling to get in the school’s lottery system, Cochran said.