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Judge blocks Montgomery’s first charter school

Montgomery, Alabama, USA downtown skyline at dusk.

Hold up on those charter school plans.

A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge on Tuesday tossed a big wrench into the rushed plans for Montgomery’s first charter school, LEAD Academy, saying the state’s Charter School Commission violated its bylaws by approving LEAD’s application without a majority of the commission voting for approval.

The Commission approved the application with only six members present, and only five voted to approve the application.

Attorneys from the Alabama Education Association, representing two Montgomery County Schools employees, filed suit last month.

“… this court cannot ignore the plain terms of a statute,” Circuit Court Judge J.R. Gaines’ order reads. “The statute clearly states that “actions of the Commission shall be by majority vote of the commission.”

It is the latest setback for the troubled charter school, and yet another legal victory for the AEA in its ongoing battle with state and Montgomery officials over the future of Montgomery’s public schools.

AEA has filed several lawsuits challenging specific instances in which it believed the state intervention into MPS has overstepped the bounds of that action. So far, AEA hasn’t lost, and a scandal-plagued takeover continues to look worse.

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Sources familiar with the lawsuits and takeover have told APR that AEA officials, along with MPS officials, believe the state takeover has been hijacked by interim state superintendent Ed Richardson and is being used to shift resources from the city’s public schools to charter schools. Richardson was the chairman of the Charter School Commission when he was selected to be interim superintendent.

The approval of LEAD was viewed by many in education circles as political in nature, and not a move that would strengthen Montgomery’s schools. And sources said that privately, Commission members wanted no part of voting for LEAD, resulting in only six members being present for a meeting in which attendance by phone was allowed.

Part of the reason for that hesitancy was due to the group chosen by the state to review charter school applications recommending that LEAD’s application be denied because it failed to score adequately in all three subject areas, including lacking a reasonable financial plan.

“The Commission’s own national experts said this application was deficient in all three core areas it reviewed and should be denied,” AEA president Sherry Tucker said in a statement. “Thus, it was no surprise that its backers could not get enough votes in favor of it. AEA will continue to be the strongest supporter of all students in all of Alabama’s public schools.”

The AEA, through legal action, has also blocked the forced sale of Georgia Washington Middle School, forced the state to allow the MPS board to hire an attorney and a county superintendent and negotiated the return of $1.4 million mistakenly diverted from MPS to Pike Road Schools more than a year ago.

Where this leaves LEAD is unclear. One of its founders, former MPS board chairperson Charlotte Meadows, told al.com that Tuesday’s decision would be appealed. The school, which acquired a building only two weeks ago, faces an uphill climb to open by August, as originally planned.

 

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Written By

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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