Senoia gets its charter school

Charter School USA representative Richard Page talks to parents Monday about the Senoia charter school. Photo/Ben Nelms.

It was the final hurdle for parents who wanted a charter school in Senoia. That hurdle came Thursday when the Georgia State School Board offered no opposition to the recommendation by the board’s Charter Schools Committee that the petition to start up the Coweta Charter Academy at Senoia be approved.

The decision came on the heels of a December approval by the Georgia Charter Schools Commission that paved the way for Florida-based Charter Schools USA to open a K-8 charter school in Senoia.

Charter Schools USA Vice President for Operations Richard Page said after the Thursday board meeting that, “We’re excited to finally be finished with the process. The process has worked and the school is cleared to open. And we’re looking forward to opening it.”

Page and those affiliated with the proposal cited significant community support as the reason for the commission’s decision and that of the state school board.

“This was a community effort,” he said, noting the more than 20 community members that attended the Charter Committee meeting on Wednesday to show their support. “Bringing choice to public education is not easy. Change is hard, but that’s what we did and it’s what the community did.”

One of the many community supporters actively pushing for a charter school since the idea surfaced last year was Senoia parent and business owner Scott Tigchelaar.

“I think this is by far the most important thing that has happened to Senoia,” he said. “As a parent, developer and business person I can say the day has come when we have a school of choice. And we’re thrilled. This has united the community.”

Tigchelaar’s statement is factually correct. Aside from a large number of parents who have petitioned for the school, the city’s business and elected leaders, and others from around the county, have long been proponents of the charter school.

One group that has not been supportive is the Coweta County School System. The school system in early January filed a request with the state school board asking that the Georgia Charter Schools Commission decision to approve the school be overturned.

The Coweta Charter Academy is expected to open next August. Page said Charter Schools USA will begin implementing plans for the establishment of the school immediately.

Though supported by significant numbers of parents in Senoia and east Coweta, the petition by Charter Schools USA to establish the school was turned down June 25 by a unanimous vote of the Coweta County School Board. Charter Schools decided to proceed without the school board’s support and present the charter school petition to the Georgia Charter Schools Commission for consideration. The announcement that the commission had approved the Senoia school and six others around the state came in mid-December.

The Senoia school will be a public school with no tuition and open to countywide enrollment. Funding for the school will come from a combination of local, state and federal dollars. The school will be accountable for its academic results since charter schools are tied to Georgia Performance Standards.

State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox had previously cited her support for the state’s new charter schools.

"I fully support high-quality charter schools because they give choices to parents and students and also come with the same accountability as all public schools. After the approval of seven new Commission charter schools today, it is apparent that the Commission used a rigorous process to ensure that quality public school options continue to be available for Georgia school children. We look forward to working with the Commission to ensure that these new schools achieve the rigorous student achievement goals set forth in their charters," Cox said.

The Coweta County School Board at its June 25 meeting denied the petition based on 11 concerns. Prior to the unanimous vote, Chairman Steve Bedrosian in a prepared statement said, “I’ve been approached by many constituents in my districts about Charter Schools in Senoia. On the surface I think the charter academy is a good idea. However, given the possibility of outside charter schools coming into Coweta County in the future, as a board member, I have an obligation. And I do not want to start a precedent of voting for a petition that does not meet the letter of the (Georgia) Charter School Act. I have to vote against that petition. I want to make it clear, I’m not voting against the Georgia Charter Foundation or a charter school in Senoia. Upon the filing of a new petition that meets the requirements of both state and federal rules I will certainly consider it.”

Under Georgia law, a charter school is a public school that operates according to the terms of a charter, or contract, that has been approved by a local board of education and the state Board of Education (BOE). The charter school may request waivers from provisions of Title 20 of Georgia state law and any state or local rule, regulation, policy, or procedure relating to schools in the school district. In exchange for this flexibility, the charter school is bound by contract and held accountable for meeting the performance-based objectives specified in the charter, according to Georgia Dept. of Education (DOE).

A traditional public school is organized according to federal laws, state school laws, state BOE rules and local board of education policies. A charter school is organized according to federal laws, applicable state school laws and BOE rules that cannot be waived and the terms of the charter contract, according to the Georgia Dept. of Education (DOE).

The Georgia Charter Schools Act of 1998 states that a charter school shall be included in the allotment of funds to the local school system in which the charter school is located. The local board and state board will treat the charter school no less favorably than other local schools in the school district with respect to the provision of funds for instructional and school administration and, where feasible, transportation, food services, and building programs. The amount of money the charter school will receive from the local board will be determined according to the provisions of the Charter Schools Act of 1998, according to DOE.

In addition, charter schools receive federal funds for special education services and for other categorical program services to the extent to which any pupil is in the charter school is eligible to participate.