Two file complaint against Cherokee Educational group
by Megan Thornton
mthornton@cherokeetribune.com
October 31, 2012 12:29 AM | 5398 views | 10 10 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CANTON — Two Cherokee County residents have filed Open Meetings Act complaints against Georgia Charter Educational Foundation, the governing board of Cherokee Charter Academy.

The nonprofit foundation is required to respond to the allegations by Nov. 6, according to a letter sent to a foundation representative by the state attorney general’s office where the complaints were filed.

Christine Rea, a parent of two former Charter Academy students, and Jennifer Hall, a Cherokee County School District teacher, filed two separate complaints during the month of October.

In a letter to Senior Assistant Attorney General Stefan Ritter sent Oct. 8, Rea said her three complaints are: The board failed to advertise its Aug. 30 board meeting, improperly advertised for its Sept. 27 meeting and inappropriately entered into executive session for training and planning.

“The locations of the meetings for GCEF is rarely if ever published, but there are other members of the board who meet in person somewhere,” Rea stated in the letter. “ Some of its members call in this way to participate and vote, while others are clearly in a room together.”

The GCEF meetings are only accessible to the public via teleconference call, according to the foundation’s meeting agendas.

Rea states GCEF is “not compliant” in posting meeting notices on its website.

“Sometimes notice is given a day in advance, sometimes two or three days,” her letter states.

Rea said no finalized meeting date was given at the close of the July 26 meeting for its next meeting and the organization did not post notice for its August meeting. She added that a meeting notice for the Sept. 27 meeting was posted for 9 a.m., though the meeting actually began at 10 a.m.

Rea’s final complaint was that at the Sept. 27 meeting, Board Chair Lyn Carden said the board would be entering into executive session for board training, which was listed as an executive session item but is not an item permitted to be discussed under executive session.

Sent Oct. 24, the day before GCEF’s most recent meeting, Hall’s letter also states the foundation violated the Open Meetings Act by advertising the incorrect time and date (Saturday, Oct. 27 at 9 a.m.) on its website, though Hall confirmed through another source that was incorrect.

The meeting was Oct. 25, at 11 a.m. Hall also included a copy of the posted agenda from the foundation’s website, which stated the meeting would be held Thursday, Sept. 27 at 9 a.m.

Rea said in an interview Tuesday her goal in filing the complaint is to make people aware, especially with the upcoming vote on Amendment 1, which would re-authorize the Georgia Charter Schools Commission after it was struck down by the Supreme Court in May.

The seven-member, appointed commission would be charged with hearing charter school petitions that have been turned down by local school boards.

“People need to know what’s going on and how they operate behind closed doors,” Rea said. “Our taxpayer dollars are funding this type of thing and people need to know, especially with Amendment 1 right now.”

Rea said she is very involved with the opposition to Amendment 1 and has been following GCEF closely since her three children were enrolled in Cherokee Charter Academy and after they re-enrolled in Cherokee County School District schools mid-year last year.

Rea said her complaint is not driven by ill will and not an organized attempt with Hall, whom she called an acquaintance, as she was unaware Hall filed her own complaint.

“I obviously was open enough to send my kids to a charter school and thought that school choice was important,” Rea said. “I still feel choice is important and think charter schools serve a purpose, but right now there’s a lot that seems to be wrong with how it’s being done.”

Rea said her hope is that the board makes the appropriate changes.

“Fix it. Make it right,” she said. “Don’t deny people that want to call in to conference call at a certain time and you’ve changed it deceptively.”

Rea said she has not yet received any correspondence from Ritter’s office.

Hall said she was prompted to file her complaint after she noticed the meetings continued to be improperly advertised.

“I can see a mistake being made once, but it’s a pattern of behavior,” Hall said.

As a longtime teacher, Hall said she is also a supporter of school choice but that is not the issue.

“(GCEF) needs to advertise properly and correctly so members of the general public can participate in these meetings,” Hall said.

Dated Friday, Oct. 26, Ritter sent a letter to Sandy Castro, state coordinator of operations for GCEF, citing only the complaint from Hall.

Ritter outlined Hall’s complaint in the letter to Castro: “Specifically, Ms. Hall asserts that the date and time is wrong on the October agenda on the website, the meetings are not advertised at least seven days in advance of the meeting and the schedule of regular meetings is not on the foundation’s website.”

Castro said in an email Tuesday she has received a request for a response to a complaint from the attorney general’s office.

“We have thoroughly researched the issue and the Georgia Charter Educational Foundation will submit their response to the Attorney General’s office within the allotted time as designated on the response request,” Castro said.

Ritter asks the foundation to provide a response to the allegations by Nov. 6.

Under Georgia law, the attorney general has the discretionary authority to enforce the Open Records Act, O.C.G.A 50-14-5(a). Attorney General Sam Olens established a mediation program to assist in resolving disputes between citizens and local governments, Ritter said.

In an interview Tuesday, Ritter said his office is geared toward trying to resolve citizen disputes with local governments.

“In a case like this, our first step is to read the letters and see if a valid argument is made that the (Open Records) Act is being violated,” Ritter said. “If so, we send a letter to their attorney and ask them to comment. When we get the comment back, then we can respond to them and tell them whether we think they are or are not in violation.”

Ritter said more than 80 percent of the time, local government agencies send back a “mea culpa” saying they were not aware of the violation and they intend to fix it.

“From our perspective, that resolves it,” Ritter said.

Ritter said he understood people are “anxious” to see his office’s findings prior to the election, but he said his office’s determination will occur after Election Day, which is the last day for GCEF to respond to the allegations.

But Hall had a very different take.

“(My complaint) doesn’t have anything to do with the vote,” Hall said. “ It’s not an issue with that because even if Amendment 1 does not pass, Cherokee Charter Academy doesn’t go away, nor would I want it to. Being resolved before or after (the election) makes no difference to me. I just want it resolved correctly and the transparency needs to be there.”

The Georgia Charter Educational Foundation Governing Board is made up of seven members charged with managing Cherokee Charter Academy and Coweta Charter Academy in Senoia, as well as each school’s approximately five-member Local Governing Council. The foundation serves as the founding board and petitioner for the two schools.
Comments
(10)
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veryconcernedparentandteacher
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November 03, 2012
Parents and community, please heed WARNING before

you enroll your children in this school. I have a

Bachelors degree in education so my review is very

honest and my experience has been nothing but

shocking. Please feel free to email me and I will be glad

to

share with you my personal and honest experience in

regards to administration at Cherokee Charter

Email:sunflowerhappyme@yahoo.com
They get tax $$
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October 31, 2012
Punchline!...Why resort to so much name calling and ugliness? I don't care who or why someone is looking into this, that is just deflecting from the real problem here. Could it be that the former parent is looking into this because she had issues with how things were run? While they do not receive local tax dollars, I do beleive they receive state and federal money. This board needs to be held accountalbe to the parents who attend the school and to the taxpayers. They are conducting "business" for that school in an unprofessional and illegal manner. They are not above the law. So kudos to the two women who are concerned with what is going on there, whatever their motives may be.
They get tax $$
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October 31, 2012
We all should be concerned because they do receive funding from GA tax payers. If they are not in compliance with their meetings is it because they are trying to hide something? I just got on their website and can not find finacial reports. I read some of the past minutes and many meetings they didn't have any report from the treasurer. What is gon on here?
Insert Punchline
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October 31, 2012
So this 'parent of two former Charter Academy students' is suddenly concerned with the meetings of a group that represents a school she left? How many of these meetings did she attend before leaving? I'm guessing Zero. And she's wrong that any tax $$ are used by this NON-PROFIT group. Since the CCA wasn't approved locally, not a dime of CCSD tax $$ goes toward it.

What a joke. I hope this Bitter Betty likes wine because she's sure got plenty of Sour Grapes to stomp!
Angry Taxpayer
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October 31, 2012
This Charter School is operating with our tax dollars!!! It doesn't matter if the funding comes from local or state as it all comes from our pockets. They need to comply with our laws if they want to collect our money - period - end of discussion!!
cellophane
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October 31, 2012
How predictable-- the school's zealot defenders are fine with illegal behavior and attack the messengers instead. So, where is the accountability charters claim to have? Good for these true citizens for calling these unelected pseudo-leaders on the carpet.
Insert Punchline
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November 01, 2012
APS, Bibb, Clayton, Dekalb, and other corrupt districts are "operating with our tax dollars", as well as giving these tax-dollars to FOR-PROFIT companies that supply the schools with everything from gas to food to books to computers.

Yet, those corrupt criminals aren't complying with our laws. Last I checked, 'altering test scores' isn't legal. Where's your selected outrage at that?

This woman is just a flip-flopper who was for charter schools before she was against them. This is nothing but some sort of personal vendetta for her. She'll probably quit the public schools again before it's all said & done.

Vote YES to Amendment 1 and NO to APS!!
They get tax $$$
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November 01, 2012
Flip flop...voting for Obama four years ago, and now pledging loyalty to the Repeblican party?

What happened in APS is horrific but charter schools have corrupt people and practices too. In fact, one of the schools being investigated is a charter school.

Um... DUH!
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November 04, 2012
I guess 'Insert Punchline' forgot that a - gasp! - CHARTER SCHOOL was busted in the APS scandal as well. Quit whining about APS - we're not APS - and we have our very own scandals to deal with. Did you miss the article above?
Accountability2
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October 31, 2012
Before this "board" claims they were not aware of the law, keep in mind they put a statement in their charter petition that the board had training in Georgia open meetings law AND compliance with that law is one of the tenets of their charter contract with the state.
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