Connect with us

Guest Columnists

Opinion | Woodland Prep. Fake charter school lives on

Larry Lee



Drive by any school in Alabama (during more normal times) and what do you expect to find?  Classrooms.  Students.  Teachers. Textbooks.  Computers.  A curriculum.  Someone in charge.

But nearly two years after the Alabama charter school commission gave the go ahead to Woodland Prep charter in Washington County there is no school facility, no classrooms, no students, no teachers, no textbooks, no curriculum.

Just an endless string of broken promises, missed deadlines, lack of due diligence and questionable decisions.  It all adds up to one of the sorriest chapters in Alabama public education, fueled in large part by incompetence at multiple levels.

Red flags were ignored from the outset.

Where was the public support?  It was never there.  Instead, the idea for this school was promoted by someone without school age children who was motivated by animosity toward the public schoolsystem.  She wanted to get even.  This is hardly the right motive for taking on a challenge of this magnitude.

Then she joined forces with Texas conman SonerTarim, someone with a controversial background and a gift for gab.  The handful of folks trying to launch Woodland Prep fell under Tarim’s spell.  This was a fatal mistake.

Tarim wrote the application submitted to the state charter school commission.  But when his handiwork was reviewed by the National Association of Charter School Auhorizers, they said it did not meet muster and should be denied.  But in their infinite wisdom, the charter commission ignored the info they paid thousands of dollars to obtain and approved Woodland Prep in May 2018.

Public Service Announcement

The application was chock full of inaccuracies and misrepresentations.  “Letters of support” were unsigned.  Figures that could not be verified were allowed to stand.  Data from questionable sources was not challenged.

Plainly, the staff for the state charter commission did not do a decent job of due diligence.  Had they, it would have been impossible to not see the numerous red flags in the application.

Both Tarim and the charter board are now being sued for fraud and misrepresentation by the Alabama Education Association.  Attorneys for the charter have tried to derail this suit, but without success.  Plaintiff attorneys are now trying to do “discovery”, but continue to get the run around from defendants. 


Woodland Prep attorneys tried to get Circuit Court Judge Gaines McCorquodale to dismiss the suit.  He did not.  Now they have appealed his ruling to the state Court of Civil Appeals.

The charter commission has 10 members who are appointed by various state officials.  Of the seven who voted to approve Woodland Prep in May 2008, only two of them remain on the commission.  Five of the seven have been replaced, including the chairman, Mac Buttram, who was unceremoniously dumped by Governor Ivey last August.

Word in Washington County now is that Tarim is no longer involved with Woodland Prep and they are looking for another Education Management Organization (EMO).

(Tarim was also the EMO for Montgomery’s LEAD Academy, a school plagued by obstacles since it opened in August.  He prepared this application as well and it ALSO was not recommended for approval by NACSA.  However, as with Woodland Prep, the commission ignored this recommendation.  At the same time NACSA gave Woodland and LEAD a bad recommendation, they did the same for a third charter application for a school in Bessemer.  But this school did not use Tarim and the charter commission did not approve it.

(Down in Covington County things such as this are sometimes known as “home cooking.”)

To their credit, the charter commission voted in February to begin proceedings to revoke the Woodland Prep charter.  Initially they called for a March 24, 2020 hearing to handle this matter.  This was then delayed to April 20, though no one can figure out who authorized such action.  This date has now also been delayed until sometime in “early to mid-May.”  Apparently, this hearing must be face-to-face with the charter commission and due to the coronavirus pandemic, who knows when this may be possible.

And once again the good folks of Washington County who oppose Woodland Prep are left to dangle.  Left to wonder how their public schoolsystem, which is rated a B by the state of Alabama, will cope with losing up to $2 million in funding should Woodland Prep ever become a reality.

Truth is, the charter is in worse shape today than when it was approved.  Tarim WAS the school.  He was the only voice speaking on its behalf before charter commission meetings.  Never once do I recall a parent speaking in support of Woodland Prep.

(In the last year Tarim has tried to get approval to open charters in Texas and Nevada.  He has been turned down in both states.)

Without him there is no curriculum, no on-the-ground expertise, just the shell of an unfinished building.

Nothing but more deception, more efforts by people trying to make some money, more excuses.

It’s all bogus.  A fake school that exists in name only.  An example of what happens when people don’t do their job and follow their common sense.

This should have never happened.  And it is way past time for it to be ended.

Larry Lee is a public-school advocate and co-author of the study,
Lessons Learned From Rural Schools.  He is a former member of the Montgomery County school board. [email protected]



Guest Columnists

Opinion | On the Nov. 3 ballot, vote “no” on proposed Amendment 1

Chris Christie




On Nov. 3, 2020, all Alabama voters should vote “no” on proposed Amendment 1. Vote no on Amendment 1 because it could allow state law changes to disenfranchise citizens whom the Legislature does not want to vote. Because Amendment 1 has no practical purpose and because it opens the door to mischief, all voters are urged to vote no.

Currently, the Alabama Constitution provides that “Every citizen of the United States…” has the right to vote in the county where the voter resides. Amendment 1 would delete the word “every” before citizen and replace it with “only a” citizen.

In Alabama, the only United States citizens who cannot vote today are most citizens who have been convicted of a felony of moral turpitude. These felonies are specifically identified in Ala. Code 17-3-30.1.

Without Amendment 1, the Alabama Constitution now says who can vote: every citizen. If voters approve Amendment 1, the Alabama Constitution would only identify a group who cannot vote. With Amendment 1, we, the citizens of the United States in Alabama, thus would lose the state constitutional protection of our voting rights.

In Alabama, no individual who is not a United States citizens can vote in a governmental election. So, Amendment 1 has no impact on non-citizens in Alabama.

Perhaps the purpose of Amendment 1 could be to drive voter turnout of those who mistakenly fear non-citizens can vote. The only other purpose for Amendment 1 would be allowing future Alabama state legislation to disenfranchise groups of Alabama citizens whom a majority of the legislature does not want to vote.

In 2020, the ballots in Florida and Colorado have similar amendments on the ballots. As in Alabama, Citizens Voters, Inc., claims it is responsible for putting these amendments on the ballots in those states. While Citizens Voters’ name sounds like it is a good nonprofit, as a 501(c)(4), it has secret political donors. One cannot know who funds Citizen Voters and thus who is behind pushing these amendments with more than $8 million in dark money.

Public Service Announcement

According to Citizen Voter’s website, the stated reason for Amendment 1 is that some cities in several other states allow non-citizens to vote. My understanding is that such measures are rare and only apply to voting for local school boards.

And why would a local government’s deciding that non-citizens can vote for local school boards be a state constitutional problem? Isn’t the good government practice to allow local control of local issues? And again, this issue does not even exist in Alabama.

The bigger question, which makes Amendment 1’s danger plain to see, is why eliminate the language protectingevery citizen’s right to vote? For example, Amendment 1 could have proposed “Every citizen and only a citizen” instead of deleting “every” when adding “only a” citizen. Why not leave the every citizen language in the Alabama Constitution?


Amendment 1 could allow Alabama new state legislation to disenfranchise some Alabama citizens. Such a change would probably violate federal law. But Alabama has often had voting laws that violated federal law until a lawsuit forced the state of Alabama not to enforce the illegal state voting law.  

The most recent similar law in Alabama might be 2011’s HB56, the anti-immigrant law. Both HB56 and Amendment 1 are Alabama state laws that out-of-state interests pushed on us. And HB56 has been largely blocked by federal courts after expensive lawsuits.

Alabama’s Nov. 3, 2020, ballot will have six constitutional amendments. On almost all ballots, Amendment 1 will be at the bottom right on the first page (front) of the ballot or will be at the top left on the second page (back) of the ballot.

Let’s keep in our state constitution our protection of every voters’ right to vote.

Based on Amendment 1’s having no practical benefit and its opening many opportunities for mischief, all Alabama voters are strongly urged to vote “no” on Amendment 1.

Continue Reading

Guest Columnists

Opinion | Amendment 4 is an opportunity to clean up the Alabama Constitution

Gerald Johnson and John Cochran




The 1901 but current Alabama Constitution has been amended about 950 times, making it by far the world’s longest constitution. The amendments have riddled the Constitution with redundancies while maintaining language and provisions — for example, poll taxes — that reflect the racist intent of those who originally wrote it.

A recompilation will bring order to the amendments and remove obsolete language. While much of this language is no longer valid, the language is still in the document and has been noted and used by other states when competing with Alabama for economic growth opportunities.

The need for recompilation and cleaning of Alabama’s Constitution has been long recognized.

In 2019, the Legislature unanimously adopted legislation, Amendment 4, to provide for its recompilation. Amendment 4 on the Nov. 3 general election ballot will allow the non-partisan Legislative Reference Service to draft a recompiled and cleaned version of the Constitution for submission to the Legislature.

While Amendment 4 prohibits any substantive changes in the Constitution, the LRS will remove duplication, delete no longer legal provisions and racist language, thereby making our Constitution far more easily understood by all Alabama citizens.

Upon approval by the Legislature, the recompiled Constitution will be presented to Alabama voters in November 2022 for ratification.

Amendment 4 authorizes a non-partisan, broadly supported, non-controversial recompilation and much-needed, overdue cleaning up of our Constitution.

Public Service Announcement

On Nov. 3, 2020, vote “Yes” on Amendment 4 so the work can begin.

Continue Reading

Guest Columnists

Opinion | Auburn Student Center named for Harold Melton, first Auburn SGA president of color

Elizabeth Huntley and James Pratt



Auburn University's Student Center (VIA AUBURN UNIVERSITY)

The year 1987 was a quiet one for elections across America but not at Auburn. That was the year Harold Melton, a student in international studies and Spanish, launched and won a campaign to become the first African American president of the Auburn Student Government Association, winning with more than 65 percent of the vote.

This was just the first of many important roles Harold Melton would play at Auburn and in an extraordinarily successful legal career in his home state of Georgia, where his colleagues on the Georgia Supreme Court elected him as chief justice.

Last week, the Auburn Board of Trustees unanimously named the Auburn student center for Justice Melton, the first building on campus that honors a person of color. The decision was reached as part of a larger effort to demonstrate Auburn’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

In June, Auburn named two task forces to study diversity and inclusion issues. We co-chair the task force for the Auburn Board with our work taking place concurrently with that of a campus-based task force organized by President Jay Gogue. Other members of the Board task force are retired Army general Lloyd Austin, bank president Bob Dumas, former principal and educator Sarah B. Newton and Alabama Power executive Quentin P. Riggins.

These groups are embarking on a process that offers all Auburn stakeholders a voice, seeking input from students, faculty, staff, alumni, elected officials and more. It will include a fact-based review of Auburn’s past and present, and we will provide specific recommendations for the future.

We are committed to making real progress based on solid facts. Unlike other universities in the state, Auburn has a presence in all 67 counties through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Our review has included not only our campuses in Auburn and Montgomery but all properties across our state. To date, we have found no monuments or statues recognizing the history that has divided our country. We will continue our fact-finding mission with input from the academic and research community.

Our university and leadership are committed to doing the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time. We believe now is the right time, and we are already seeing results.

Public Service Announcement

In addition to naming the student center for the Honorable Harold Melton, we have taken steps to highlight the significant role played by Harold Franklin, the student who integrated Auburn. We are working to enhance the historical marker that pays tribute to Mr. Franklin, and we are raising its visibility in campus tours as we pay homage to his contributions as our first African American student. Last month, we awarded Mr. Franklin, now 86 and with a Ph.D., a long-overdue master’s degree for the studies he completed at Auburn so many years ago.

We likewise endorsed a student-led initiative creating the National Pan-Hellenic Council Legacy Plaza, which will recognize the contributions of Black Greek organizations and African American culture on our campus.

In the coming months, Auburn men and women will work together to promote inclusion to further enhance our student experience and build on our strength through diversity. The results of this work will be seen and felt throughout the institution in how we recruit our students, provide scholarships and other financial support and ensure a culture of inclusion in all walks of university life.


Our goal is to identify and implement substantive steps that will make a real difference at Auburn, impact our communities and stand the test of time.

Naming the student center for Justice Melton is but one example. In response to this decision, he said, “Auburn University has already given me everything I ever could have hoped for in a university and more. This honor is beyond my furthest imagination.”

Our job as leaders at Auburn is more than honoring the Harold Meltons and Harold Franklins who played a significant role in the history of our university. It is also to create an inclusive environment that serves our student body and to establish a lasting legacy where all members of the Auburn Family reach their fullest potential in their careers and in life.

Continue Reading

Guest Columnists

Opinion | Alabama lags behind the nation in Census participation with deadline nearing

Paul DeMarco




The United States Census is starting to wind down around the country with a Sept. 30 deadline for the national population to be completed. However, a United States District Court has recently ruled that the date may be extended another 30 days to allow more time for the census to take place.

Regardless of the deadline, Alabama has work to do when it comes to the census.

To date, the national average for participation around the country has been almost 65 percent for the census.

Unfortunately, Alabama residents are providing data to the census at a lower percentage, around some 61 percent of the state population.

There is already concern among state leaders that if that number does not reach above 70 percent, then the state will lose a seat in Congress, a vote in the electoral college and millions of federal dollars that come to the state every year.

The percentage of participation has varied widely around the state, from a high of 76 percent in Shelby County to a low of 36 percent in neighboring Coosa County.

State leaders are making a final push to request Alabama residents fill out the census in the last month before it is closed.

Public Service Announcement

We will find out later this fall if Alabama passes the national average of participation in the census compared to other states to retain both its future representation and share of federal dollars.

In the meantime, Alabamians need to fill out their census forms.

The state is depending on it.


Continue Reading