School board looking at Brooks as charter location

The former Brooks Elementary School campus. Photo/Carolyn Cary.

One week after turning down an application that would have Liberty Tech Charter School become a part of the county school system, the Fayette County Board of Education voted Aug. 4 to potentially lease the vacant Brooks Elementary School to Liberty Tech if the school is approved by the Ga. Charter Schools Commission.

Superintendent Jody Barrow after the Aug. 4 executive session recommended that the board authorize him to have discussions with Liberty Tech leadership concerning a potential lease application for the Brooks Elementary School property. With that, the board voted unanimously to have Barrow initiate those discussions.

“Although we were disappointed that the board denied our petition, we do understand that the county is just coming out of some difficult economic times. We were, however, very happy with the results of the board’s vote on leasing Brooks Elementary to Liberty Tech. Brooks Elementary is the perfect place to forge the culture that Liberty Tech intends to create,” said Liberty Tech representative Christi McCully.

“Many other locations we have investigated required that we compromise our mission because of a lack of outdoor space. Brooks elementary has about six acres allowing plenty of space for sports, play and outdoor learning like rocketry, gardens, a meteorology station and so much more. And the facility is in great condition. It is just sitting there waiting for students to come back. We are happy to accommodate,” McCully added.

Commenting on the potential for Liberty Tech to locate in Brooks, Mayor Dan Langford said, “Based on everything I know, I’m very much in favor of it. Liberty Tech sounds like an out-of-the-box approach to public education. (Liberty Tech) offers to bring back everything that was lost when the elementary school was closed, and maybe beyond that. And I applaud the school board for having the talks.”

Langford noted that the first school in Brooks was built in 1917 and, until the early 1930s, served grades 1-10.

Much of the school was torn down in 1962 and replaced with the building known today as Brooks Elementary School. The school was closed at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.

Referencing Langford’s support, McCully said Liberty Tech supporters appreciate the enthusiasm they received in Brooks.

“Mayor Langford and the Town Council have graciously written letters of support and citizens have come to all of our meetings. They are so excited at the prospect of having a K-12 charter school in town,” McCully said.

The July 28 vote by the school board ended as expected. The board on a 4-1 vote followed Barrow’s recommendation to deny the application that would have Liberty Tech Charter School become a part of the Fayette County School System.

As a result, Liberty Tech subsequently made its case three days later to the Ga. Charter School Commission to become a state charter school and is awaiting the results.

“The final results should come through in late September. If we are approved, we will open in the fall of 2015 with 361 students, grades 3-8,” said McCully. “If not, we will come back next year for a 2016 opening date.” 

Barrow in his comments prior to making the July 28 recommendation said there were issues pro and con concerning the approval of the school. On the down side, Barrow he was concerned about the school’s fiscal viability and the viability of a suitable location. Barrow noted that the school board recently closed four schools, asking if it made sense to create another school using public funds.

“If we think the (Ga. Charter Schools) commission will approve the school it would cost the district less, and if the state does approve it the school system is not accountable for the results,” Barrow said.

On the positive side, Barrow said he understood that some parents want choice options.

Of note was Barrow’s recognition of what he called the irony involved in the decision, since all state school systems are currently considering state-imposed flexibility models. As has been previously reported, the main choice for school systems thus far has been the option of becoming charter school systems.

Citing his concerns about Liberty Tech’s fiscal viability, Barrow said he believed the school system, too, was not in sufficient financial shape at this point in time to recommend accepting the application. That said, Barrow recommended denial.

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