Information about the workings of the state charter school commission have not been easy to find. But slowly and surely, thanks in large part to the persistence of people impacted by what is going on, we are learning more and more.
For example, even though this is a public body, getting copies of the minutes of their meetings was about as difficult as getting the keys to Ft. Knox. Then, surprise, surprise, some of them showed up this morning on the commission’s web site. However, only ones for 2018-19 are there, even though the first meeting of this body was Aug. 27, 2015. So more than two and one-half years of minutes are still missing. At least from public view.
If you are interested in what is now posted, go here.
Of particular interest are the minutes of May 14, 2018, the day the commission approved Woodland Prep in Washington County, though the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, who had reviewed their application, recommended it be denied. For the first time we now know who the seven board members are who voted for it, as well as the two who voted against it.
Here is the section of the minutes dealing with Woodland Prep.
“Mr. Mac Buttram welcomed those who had come to speak from Washington County in regards to a proposed charter school. Mr. Henry Nelson and Mr. Tommy Ledbetter expressed concern around the mail they had received from stakeholders in Washington County. It was clarified that there is accountability in place for charter schools. Directions were given for those who wished to speak. There were speakers opposed and in favor of the proposed school. Mr. Henry Nelson made the motion to postpone the decision for a later time in the meeting. Mr. Tommy Ledbetter seconded the motion. The motion was unanimous.
Mr. Mac Buttram introduced the applicants from Washington County. Mr. Jacob Snow presented an overview of the Woodland Prep application with a PowerPoint outlining areas of concern addressed from the NACSA report and information about Unity Services. Mr. Soner Tarim addressed the Commission. The Commission asked questions after the presentation for further clarification including questions about the background of Unity Services. The motion was made by Mr. Henry Nelson to approve the application, and Mrs. Lisa Williams seconded the motion. Those who voted in favor of approval were Charles Jackson, Lisa Williams, Mac Buttram, Tommy Ledbetter, Melissa McInnis, Chad Fincher, and Henry Nelson. Those who voted against the approval were Ibrahim Lee and Terri Tomlinson. The motion for approval passed with a 7-2 vote”
Three things immediately catch my attention. One being that board members Henry Nelson and Tommy Ledbetter complained about opponents of Woodland Prep contacting the board. The charter law clearly states that one of the obligations of the commission is to measure support and opposition in the impacted community to a charter locating there. Someone needs to point this out to Nelson and Ledbetter.
The second is that Soner Tarim of Texas addressed the commission. He plays a significant role in the opposition in Washington County because of his past affiliation with the Gulen charter school movement. This is a highly controversial entity that will be the subject of the documentary, KILLING ED, that will be shown Monday, April 29 at the high school in Chatom. Film maker Mark Hall of Austin, TX will present this screening.
So the commission knew of the involvement of Tarim from the get-go. Did no one do any due diligence to find out his background?
The third thing I noticed is that none of the board members are from rural Alabama. This seems a glaring omission since locating charters in rural locations is an entirely different animal that putting them in urban or suburban sites, as we pointed out here.
Of the seven yes votes that day, six still remain. They are chairman Mac Buttram of Huntsville, Charles Jackson of Montgomery, Tommy Ledbetter of Huntsville, Lisa Williams of Montgomery, Henry Nelson of Birmingham and Melissa McInnis of Montgomery. The seventh vote was Chad Fincher of Mobile who has since resigned his slot.
The two no votes were Ibrahim Lee of Montgomery and Terri Tomlinson of Mobile. Tomlinson is no longer on the board.
It is noteworthy that of the six yes votes still on the board, five of them have appointments that expire May 31 2019. All may be reappointed. Buttram and Jackson are appointees of the governor. Ledbetter and McInnis are appointees of the Speaker of the House and Nelson was appointed by President Pro Tem of the senate, Del Marsh.
Also on the agenda May 14 was a vote to accept or reject the application for Eugene Edwards Technology School in Bessemer. Like the Woodland Prep application, it was recommended by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers that this be denied.
This effort was lead by Charnetta Gadling-Cole. I contacted her and she said that no one spoke in opposition and they had strong community support. Just the opposite of the Woodland Prep situation. However, this application was denied by the board while Woodland Prep was approved.
The lack of transparency surrounding the charter commission is not how public bodies should conduct business. The lack of due diligence and ignoring the laws that govern this commission only undercut whatever little confidence the public may still have in them.
Changes need to be made.