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Opinion | Texas school board member minces no words about Soner Tarim

Larry Lee

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Since Soner Tarim of Sugarland, Texas, has management contracts for both Woodland Prep and LEAD Academy charter schools, I watched with great interest when he appeared before the Texas Board of Education on June 14 trying to get approval to open eight new charter schools in Austin and Houston.

Board member Georgina Perez of El Paso cut him no slack. In fact, when the chair asked if she had any questions, she quickly replied, “I have six pages of them.” She only made it to page five before the chair asked her to let some other members have their shot. A former teacher, she is one of five Democrats on the 15-member panel.

And she was not joking about having a lot of questions. About why Tarim used untrue facts and figures in his application, about why there was no diversity on the board of Harmony charters that he once ran, about his attitude toward students with discipline issues, etc.

“He attempted to create his personal set of alternative facts,” Perez told me in a telephone conversation.

She was especially critical of his comments about students with discipline records.

At one point, Tarim asked her if she wanted “those kids” in her classroom. She quickly responded that these were the students she taught for years, and she was glad to have the opportunity to work with them.

“Someone with his attitude should not be allowed near a school, much less involved with running one,” she told me.

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Perez is definitely not a fan of charter schools.

“I think they are a detriment to democracy,” she told me. “In spite of their use of the term ‘public’ on their advertisements, they are not accountable to the public, yet — in Texas — they are 100 percent funded by taxpayers.”

“And for people like Soner Tarim, charters are about only making money — not about educating children.”

As I have talked to folks in Texas in recent weeks, I sense that their honeymoon with charters is coming to an end. Perez agrees.

“For years we have been a Petri dish for charters,” she said. “But now, even Republicans who have been so supportive of them in the past are asking questions. They are wanting to know where the return is on their investment.”

Tarim’s application was denied by the Texas board. Four Republicans joined four Democrats in opposition.

The actions of the Texas board and the questions of Georgina Perez are in stark contrast to how the charter school commission in Alabama views Tarim. While we seem to believe anything he says, folks in Texas who know him well certainly don’t.

We love to talk about going to other states to learn things about education. Right now, we are looking at how five states teach math.

Seems we would be smart to listen to our neighbors in Texas when it comes to charter schools and especially what they think about Soner Tarim.

 

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