OK. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am not an impartial observer. This is especially true when I talk about the charter school fiasco in Washington County.
And after more than 60 posts about this mess, numerous trips to the county and conversations with dozens and dozens of locals, I am more convinced than ever that this is a scam, a disaster, a travesty and an injustice being forced on good and decent people who happen to live in a forgotten part of Alabama.
Earlier this week I spent the morning in the courthouse in Washington County listening to lawyers argue the merits and demerits of Woodland Prep charter school.
There were probably 75 people there. If a single one was a supporter of the charter school, none of the locals knew who they were. This has been typical from the outset.
When the charter commission approved this application in May 2018, residents had sent postcards to commission members urging them to vote no. All they got was a tongue lashing from some commission members for being proactive.
And though the national reviewer said this application should be denied, the charter commission ignored them. Attorneys for the charter argued at length that opponents should have registered their complaints with the charter commission–but none of them have seen how the folks in Washington county have been treated when they have tried to do so.
As they cited the charter law, pro-charter attorneys conveniently ignored the section that says the commission should not approve “weak” applications. nor did they mention the section that says the commission should consider the quality of the local school system, which is a B in this case, or that they should consider local support for the charter. which is non-existent.
On two occasions people in the county have chartered a bus and brought 60 people to Montgomery, one time to attend a state school board meeting and another to attend a charter commission meeting.
In addition, locals got nearly 3,000 names on petitions opposing the charter and presented them to the charter commission still, the commission pays no attention.
It was interesting to me that one of the pro-charter attorneys was state rep. David Faulkner of Mountain Brook. I wondered if he had ever set foot in this county before. It is worth noting that he voted in favor of the charter law in 2015, the very law.he is now making money on.
As he talked about how the charter will be funded, he failed to mention that the charter will divert $2.2 million from the existing system and was dismissal of time lines that govern local school systems. Obviously he is clueless about how school finance works. when local budgets are made and the implications that such a diversion could have on teachers, bus drivers, lunch room workers, etc.
Another charter attorney said they now have 132 students registered, which may, or may not, be the case since no one will present a list for verification. But when Woodland Prep met with the charter commission last September, they said they had 130 signed up. So they have gotten TWO more since then? (Their contract with the state says they will have 260 K-8 students enrolled when they open.)
The charter commission gave Woodland Prep a one-year extension last June. One of the attorneys said they are going to ask for another extension.
Circuit Judge Gaines McCorquodale did a good job, was in no hurry and asked good questions. At one point he asked if there was a transcript of all discussions Woodland Prep has had with the charter commission. He was told there is. THAT IS A JOKE. Minutes of meetings are anything but thorough. They don’t even show when the commission has elected officers.
The charter attorneys were asking that the hearing be “sealed.” In other words, that nothing be made public. Their argument was that the Alabama Education Association, which brought the suit on behalf of three local plaintiffs, had encouraged people to attend the meeting to unduly influence the proceedings.
The judge quickly dismissed this request saying that he welcomed public participation in his court room.
The other motion by the charter is to dismiss the suit entirely. The judge will rule on this in the near-future.
This has gone on far too long. It has been Chinese water torture since May 2018 for citizens of Washington County and their school system. Drip. Drip. Drip. And while Montgomery bureaucrats continue to say they do not know who has authority over the charter commission, one thing is very clear. What is right is right and what is wrong is wrong.
We desperately need some people in Montgomery to figure this out and then show the political courage to take action. If they are not willing to, they should be replaced.