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Opinion | The Alabama Charter School Commission does not care


Last year, the Alabama Charter School Commission gave approval to a Washington County charter school known as Woodland Prep.

It gave that approval despite the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which was contracted by the Alabama State Department of Education to review charter school applications, writing in its review of Woodland that the school’s operational plan and building plans were suspect and raising concerns about the number of students it might draw. The NACSA had specific concerns about the lack of a building, lack of community support and about a for-profit management company from out of state that was charging high rates.

The Commission gave the NACSA report a collective “pfft,” and green lit the school.

Well, on Friday, just two months before that school was scheduled to open, Woodland Prep was back in front of the Commission, this time asking for a year-long extension.

And you’ll never guess why.

Because the building still isn’t built. The community still hates the charter school, which has just 50 students enrolled. And the management company, Soner Tarim’s Unity School Services, still hasn’t managed to hire any staff for the school. (It had a principal but she quit.)

During the lengthy Commission meeting, chairman Mac Buttram took great care to walk Tarim and other Woodland reps through the many delays, problems and general screw-ups that have delayed the opening of Woodland to such a degree that there currently is not one brick of a school building in place.

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It was bullying, they said.

That simple.

Certain people in Washington County were so against the charter school that they had bullied the other people in Washington County. Contractors wouldn’t build. Teachers wouldn’t apply. Students wouldn’t register.

Out of fear.

It was … ridiculous.

Yes, people hate the Woodland charter school in Washington County. And yes, they have been very vocal about their disdain for a school that will suck millions of dollars from a good local school system that is already massively underfunded.

But, um, that’s not “bullying.” That’s called the majority of teachers, parents and interested parties in that county standing up for the school system they believe in.

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And it’s also a clear indication that the community does NOT support this charter school — a requirement under the charter school law.

The fact is every warning that the NACSA gave about Woodland and its sketchy application has proven accurate.

But, of course, that didn’t matter to the Charter School Commission. It again approved Woodland Prep, giving it a one-year extension to open its doors.

The Commission gave that extension despite Woodland’s team, led by Soner Tarim, admitting that fewer than 50 students were enrolled, there is no building, there is no staff and there is no commitment from locals to fund the school.

In the meeting, with Buttram lobbing softball questions at Tarim, the Woodland reps claimed that students wanted to enroll, but that the “bullying” was preventing many people from registering. Same with donations. Same with contractors. Same with every problem.

There was also racism, they said, because Tarim’s very real and well documents connections to the Gulen Movement have been documented in state media, and some people were making anti-Muslim comments. That racism appeared to be contained solely within one newspaper letter to the editor and social media posts, mostly from anonymous users.

But while a little racism is still way too much racism, there’s zero evidence that Tarim’s religion played any role in any of the organized groups who are protesting this charter.

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Instead, they seem to be motivated by reason and common sense: Their schools are good, and they don’t want money sucked out of them to pay for a needless charter that seems wholly unprepared to build, open or operate a school.

If only the Charter Commission cared.


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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