The analysis was released at the Thursday meeting of the Cherokee County Board of Education. The school board is scheduled to vote on Cherokee Charter Academy’s petition at a special called meeting Friday at 6 p.m. at Cherokee High School in Canton.
Cherokee Charter is seeking the local school board’s approval after a May decision of the Georgia Supreme Court struck down the 2008 state law that allowed for its charter. The charter school won the approval of the Georgia Charter School Commission in 2010 after several denials from the Cherokee board since 2008.
One of the major concerns described in the analysis is the accountability of the school’s governing body and corporate structure with its management company, Charter School USA, a Florida-based for-profit company.
The analysis argues that the Georgia Charter Education Foundation Board, a nonprofit organized to oversee the school, was appointed by CSUSA. The analysis says the charter school’s local governing council, a board to oversee day-to-day operations of the school, was appointed by the Georgia Charter Education Foundation and CSUSA.
The analysis states that the “petition calls for these two boards to be appointed by themselves” without any input from Cherokee County taxpayers or parents with students enrolled in the school. Cherokee County School District staff believes taxpayers and/or parents should have input.
Lyn Carden, a member of the Georgia Charter Education Foundation board, declined to comment on the issue. However, Richard Page, the vice president of development for Charter Schools USA said his group had no say in the appointments or actions of the foundation.
“We don’t have any say in their actions,” Page said. “The Georgia Charter Education Foundation is its own legal entity. Once they are established, they will govern themselves. They hold us accountable through a contract.”
The fee of that contract is another concerned raised in the analysis.
In the first year budget submitted by Cherokee Charter Academy in its revised petition to the school system, the school has about $343,000 earmarked in management fees for CSUSA.
The analysis raises concern over a “sweep agreement” calling for any charter school budget surplus to be granted to the management company.
Page said there is no sweep agreement between CSUSA and Cherokee Charter Academy.
“A sweep agreement implies that whatever is left in the bank account at the end of the year belongs to the management company,” he said. “That is not the case.”
However, Page said, the management contract does allow for the management fee to be lowered or raised by vote of the Georgia Charter Education Foundation board — also listed as a concern in the superintendent’s staff analysis.
Budgetary oversight by the Board of Education is another topic of the analysis.
The analysis argues that with funds coming from tax collections in Cherokee County, the schools’ budgets should have final approval by the countywide elected Board of Education.
Carden disagreed with that point.
“We’re happy to let them look at it, but that’s not the way a charter school is set up,” she said. “Budget approval comes from the local governing council and the Georgia Charter Education Foundation.”
The analysis also challenges how well charter schools under Charter Schools USA meet mandated adequate yearly progress.
AYP is a federal mandate of the No Child Left Behind.
According to the analysis, only 35 percent of Charter School USA schools met AYP in 2009, as compared to 92 percent of Cherokee County schools.
However, AYP standards are set by the state.
CSUSA had 23 schools in operation last year, all but one in Florida.
“AYP is set state by state,” Carden said. “Florida’s expectations are much higher than Georgia’s. It’s like comparing oranges to peaches.”
Page agreed and corrected the data saying 39 percent of CSUSA schools made AYP. He also noted that only 22 percent of Florida’s public school made the mandate in 2009.
“We are out-performing the traditional public schools when you compare apples to apples,” he said.
The charter school’s proposed facility also drew red flags.
Cherokee Charter is planning to occupy the former American Heritage Academy facility on Sixes Road in Canton.
American Heritage lost the building to foreclosure earlier this year. The building is being leased from its owner, Delaware-based Manufacturers and Trading Trust and Company.
Petruzielo has expressed concerns with public funds going to a privately owned building.
Also at last week’s meeting, Petruzielo released his required petition revisions for the Cherokee Charter Academy.
The document, he said, contained all the changes Cherokee Charter would have to make to their petition in order to receive a positive recommendation from him.
The revisions change Cherokee Charter’s charter petition to meet the superintendent’s concerns. One major change required by the superintendent is decreasing the proposed school’s student body.
Cherokee Charter Academy proposed an inaugural class of 995 students. The school’s revised petition says its maximum student body will be 1,145.
A new school with a student body of 500 would have a $3.4 million impact on the school system’s budget Petruzielo said.
At a Board of Education work session last week, Petruzielo said amount has been earmarked for the charter school in the school system’s tentative budget.
The school system is facing shrinking revenues due to state cuts in education funding and continual decreases in the county’s tax digest.
The Board of Education is scheduled to approve the school system’s next operation budget next month.
Having more students would cause “significant negative budgetary impact,” which could lead to teacher layoffs, furlough days or a tax increase, on the school system, Petruzielo said at the meeting.
Carden declined to comment on Petruzielo’s required changes.