Finally. Thankfully. Mercifully.
The colossal mishmash of an attempt to open a charter school in Washington County has now been taken off of life support and left to flop, flounder and gasp its last breath by the state Charter School Commission.
The application to open Woodland Prep was approved in May 2018 by the commission on a vote of 7-2. It is noteworthy that of the seven YEA votes, only two of these commission members remain.
(The commission has 10 members. Four nominated by the governor, three by the speaker of the house, one by the lt. governor and two by the senate majority leader. Six of these members have taken office since last May, no doubt in part to the on-going controversy created by Woodland Prep.)
Then the charter asked for a one-year extension on June 7, 2019 stating more time was needed for construction and permitting. This was granted on a vote of 5-1.
At that time the contractor said the school would be ready for tours in January 2020.
However, instead of meeting this time line, Woodland Prep asked the charter commission at their Feb. 3, 2020 meeting for another building extension. This was apparently the straw that broke the camel’s back and the commission balked.
In a near-unanimous vote, the commission not only voted down the extension request, they also approved a motion to proceed with the paperwork to revoke Woodland Pre’s charter application. The charter will be given 30 days to respond to the commission and the commission will then react to this response.
It was clear the commission has run out of patience with the charter and their endless excuses for why there has been so little progress on completing the facility and enrolling students.
This frustration was strongly expressed by commissioner Paul Morin of Birmingham who explained that since the Woodland Prep application was first approved in May 2018, the state highway department closed a major intersection in Birmingham where I-59/s0 and I-65 join and totally rebuilt it and re-opened for traffic. “And ya’ll can’t build a small school building in the same time?” he asked.
As we’ve documented here countless times, this has been a sordid mess from day one. The charter law has been ignored, due diligence has often been woeful, information has been either sketchy or simply withheld, the truth has been badly warped and the Washington County public school system has been left to left to wonder for too many months what future budgets will look like.
It has proven beyond a doubt that Alabama’s charter school law is flawed and needs serious re-tooling.
I titled one of my first posts (April 10, 2019) about all of this, The Rape of Washington County. That is still an appropriate description of what unfolded in the very rural county of only 17,000 people. No citizen of this state deserves to be treated as second-class. But that is what happened for months and months and months.
Fortunately, a small band of dedicated people in the county simply refused to go quietly into the night. They were tenacious in their efforts to expose wrong doing and make sure people in Montgomery knew about it. Without their hard work and perseverance, it is unlikely this story would have ended this way.
And educators all over the state, most especially those in rural areas, owe them all a debt of gratitude. They have proven that you can indeed fight city hall–and win. Time and time again they have told me that they do not oppose charter schools where they are needed and will strengthen local education options.
However, this was never the case in Washington County. Thankfully, some folks in Montgomery were finally convinced they were right.