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Opinion | Is Montgomery charter getting special treatment?

By Larry Lee

A group headed by former Montgomery County school board president Charlotte Meadows wants to establish a charter school in the Capital City. Good for them.

Called LEAD Academy, the application to move forward was approved by the state charter school commission on Feb. 12, 2018 with five of 11 members voting to approve. However, information that calls the process into question has come to light.

Josh Moon, with the Alabama Political Reporter, reports on this as part of a larger article about the Montgomery school situation in general. You can find it here.

The state employs the National Association of Charter School Authorizers to carefully review charter applications and give them a report on how to proceed. They made a report about the LEAD application dated Jan. 29, 2018. It is posted on the Alabama Department of Education website.

Surprisingly, the report clearly DOES NOT recommend approval of the LEAD application.

The first sentence under Summary Analysis says: “The LEAD Education Foundation’s proposal does not meet the standard for approval.” The report further states that applications must fully meet standards in three areas which are: Education Program and Design, Operations Plan & Capacity and Financial Plan & Capacity.

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However, NACSA states that LEAD only “Partially Meets the Standard” in all three areas and raises concerns about several areas of operation. For instance, the report points out that the LEAD board has only four members, none of whom “have the critical experience of leading, teaching, of working in a K-12 school setting.”

Finances are also an issue as the report states: “a number of line items in the proposed budget do not appear reasonable and the proposed loan form American Charter Development raises concerns about cost and conflict of interest. The budget contains a number of questionable assumptions and may not be sound.”

In light of this information, seems to me that Alabama taxpayers deserve some answers. After all, records show that the state has paid NACSA a total of $68,758 in three payments since Feb. 24, 2017.

No. 1—Why did the state charter school commission ignore this report?

No. 2—Common sense tells us that someone brought pressure on commission members to approve the application in spite of the report. Who was this?

No. 3—One of the commission members is a former Montgomery school system  principal who was terminated. He voted yes. Wasn’t this a direct conflict of interest?

All we have heard since the state passed legislation allowing charter schools is how open and transparent everything will be and we will have ample checks and balances to make sure business is conducted properly.

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But when you pay $68,758 to someone and then ignore their recommendations, you have to wonder what is going on.

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