At its essence, the charter commission is actually a bank. And every taxpayer in Alabama has a stake in how they conduct business..
What the charter commission really does is decide how taxpayer money will be invested, to the tune of about $8,500 per student who attends a charter school. It is up to them to decide if this money is invested wisely or poorly.
This was crystal clear in a riveting moment at the September 30 charter commission meeting when a member told Soner Tarim that the commission wanted him to succeed in Washington County and they should do anything they could to make this happen.
OMG. The person who made the statement had just listened to Tarim spend nearly an hour dodging direct questions, trying to play the victim and making up one excuse after another. The same guy the Texas state school board sent packing in June when he wanted to open four charter schools in Austin. The same guy who is being sued for fraud because of all the misrepresentations in the Woodland Prep charter application (which he told folks in Texas he prepared). And we want to help him succeed?
When someone approaches the charter commission seeking approval for a new school, they are looking for money. It is the duty and responsibility of the commission to decide if investing in this charter makes sense. Just like a banker does when someone wants to borrow money to open a new business.
When this happens, one of the first things the banker wants to know is how much money will this new business owner invest themselves. The bank is not going to take 100 percent of the risk and if the person seeking the loan is not willing to invest themselves, then why should the bank?
The charter commission should require that any new charter applicant show in writing that they have raised at least $250,000 in local money. If the local community is not willing to support this venture with their dollars, then why should Alabama taxpayers go out on a limb?
The banker will also do proper due diligence and determine if this new business venture makes sense. Is there a market for the services or goods the borrower is proposing to furnish.
This is where the charter commission has badly mishandled the Woodland Prep situation.
Soner Tarim claims that he will offer a curriculum that with be heavy on science and technology and prepare Washington County students to go to college to be engineers, doctors, etc. He obviously thinks that one size fits all. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
But some homework shows us Washington County does not need–nor want–what Tarim is peddling. Sure, they graduate bright students who have their eyes on college and the possibilities a college degree may afford them.
But of the 67 counties in Alabama, only four of them (Pickens, Clay, Coosa and Conecuh) have less people over the age of 25 with a college degree than Washington County does. On the other hand, Washington County has the highest average weekly wage ($1,152) of any county in the state. This is 30 percent above the state average. In addition, Washington County ranks No.19 in the state in median income, wedged between Mobile and Montgomery.
Plus, ACT Work Ready Communities has declared Washington County as a “certified Work Ready Community.” This means the community links workforce development to education; aligns with the economic development needs of the community; and matches individuals to jobs based on skill levels. In other words, they are tailoring education to what the public wants. They are preparing graduates for good-paying jobs in the area.
The charter commission, at least the one in place prior to four new members being appointed in August, obviously did not bother to do their homework and figure all of this out.. Instead of listening to the local community and understanding its dynamics, they chose to listen to a guy from Texas who is only trying to get money out of Alabama taxpayers. However, there is reason to believe that the most recent appointments to the commission are looking for accountability, not just the smoke and mirrors Tarim has given them.
In a nutshell, Tarim wants to open a Neiman-Marcus where folks are doing just fine with only a Dollar General.
No banker worth his salt would fall for this. Nor should the charter school commission have done so.