Fayette BoE: Charter school given until May 1 to make its case

The Fayette County Board of Education on Monday amended its charter school acceptance policy, but exempted a current petitioner from retroactive deadlines. The vote on the amendment was followed by another unanimous vote to set a May 1 deadline for Liberty Tech Charter School to submit its petition for a charter school in Fayette County.

Superintendent Jody Barrow at the January meeting suggested the board move ahead with amending the existing policy and the few changes included in the amendment. Board member Bob Todd at that meeting suggested that the policy sit for 30 days, a customary move for new policies, to give time for public input.

Barrow in previous comments said that, if denied by the board, Liberty Tech can take the petition to the Ga. Charter Schools Commission. By law, the commission can override a local board.

Present at the Monday board meeting was Fayette County resident and Liberty Tech Steering Committee Chair Christi McCully. Speaking prior to the vote during public comments McCully said, “We recognize that the local policy does need to be updated to be in compliance with the recent changes to the state charter law. However, the petition deadline does not need to be set for Feb. 1 to satisfy said law. According to the Charter School Commission and our lawyer, the local board does have discretion to set a deadline as is demonstrated in the wide range of deadlines set by counties in Georgia. I don’t know the rationale for Feb. 1 deadline, but it will effectively prevent Liberty Tech from submitting our petition to the school board this year.”

McCully asked that the school board, in a spirit of fairness, consider two options to the policy. The first option would grandfather Liberty Tech under the timeline that was in place when the letter of intent was submitted on Dec. 15. The second option would be to choose a date that is in closer alignment with the deadline of submission to that of the state which should be sometime in May.

The school board voted unanimously to approve the policy as stated. Board member Barry Marchman immediately following the vote made another motion, one that gives Liberty Tech until May 1 to submit the lengthy petition given that the organization had submitted its letter of intent in mid-December.

The board with little discussion approved the motion by unanimous vote.

“We are pleased that the board has agreed to allow Liberty Tech to submit a petition this year,” McCully said after the meeting. “In talking with the superintendent and several board members we found them to be very fair-minded and willing to consider Liberty Tech on the merits of our petition. We have been working hard to design an innovative, high-quality education option for families in Fayette county. The outpouring of interest and support from the public has been overwhelming and a special thanks goes to the individuals who provided their input to the board.”

If approved by either local or state entities, the school would open for the 2015-2016 school year, serving grades 3-7 and increasing to grades K-12 four years thereafter.

Envisioned as a public, nonprofit charter school, Liberty Tech would infuse classical education with the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program and would partner academically with the University of West Georgia, according to www.libertytechcharter.org

The school will feature a 210-day academic year, stressing personal virtue, physical fitness and positive student relationships, according to Liberty Tech.

The Dec. 15 letter of intent submitted by California-based nonprofit Heritage Classical Charter Schools (HCCS) signaled the desire by local residents to locate the Liberty Tech Charter School in Fayette County beginning in the 2015-2016 school year.

HCCS CEO and Headmaster Scott Phillips in the Dec. 15 letter of intent said his organization is working closely with an unidentified group of parents in Fayette County “who have approached us to help them develop Liberty Tech Charter School.”

Addressing the connection between HCCS and Liberty Tech, McCully said HCCS is mentoring Liberty Tech through the process at no charge.

“(HCCS) asked that Liberty Tech include classical education,” McCully said. “They will not be involved in daily operations, they will not be involved in academic decisions and they will have no authority.”

The policy as approved includes a Jan. 1 deadline for submitting a letter of intent and a Feb. 1 deadline prior to the opening year for the petition paperwork to be submitted.

Once submitted, the school board can vote to accept or deny the petition to establish a charter school no later than 90 days after the submission of the petition.

According to the policy, if the school board approves a charter petition, the petition will be forwarded to the Ga. Dept. of Education (DOE) within 30 days for review.

If the petition is denied, the board will have 60 days to provide a written explanation to the charter school and DOE stating the reasons for denial and providing a list of deficiencies in the petition.