When Soner Tarim pleaded his case for four new charter schools in Austin, TX on June 14, the Texas school board was not impressed and voted 8-5 to deny his application. Four Republicans and four Democrats turned him down.
Yes, the same Soner Tarim who has management contracts for charters in Washington County and Montgomery
Here is part of what the Austin American-Statesman had to say about what happened:
“In a victory for the Austin school district, the State Board of Education on Friday rejected an application 8-5 by a new charter school operator to gain a toehold in the Austin district.
Royal Public Schools, created by Soner Tarim, founder and former chief executive of charter school giant Harmony Public Schools, was seeking to open new charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, near Burnet Middle School in North Austin and in the Houston area by August 2020.
The Austin school district has been losing students — and the money that comes with those students — for several years, and district officials forcefully pushed back against the Royal application. Once a charter operator wins approval to open a school in a district, expansion requests are routinely approved administratively by the Texas Education Agency.
The decision came after board members questioned Tarim about his curriculum plans, whether he would serve special needs students and whether he would deny admission to certain students.
Board member Georgina C. Pérez, D-El Paso, pressed Tarim to explain why he targeted the Burnet Middle School area when none of the nearby campuses are failing under the state grading system.
Tarim justified opening schools near Burnet Middle School because he said six nearby schools were failing based on data from Children At Risk, a Houston-based organization that grades campuses every year in a widely cited report. But under the state accountability system, none of the campuses failed last school year.
“Royal has created a personal Royal-specific rating system,” said Pérez, who was one of four Democrats and four Republicans to vote against the Royal bid. “Your application and my information don’t match.”
Tarim said the board turned down his charter school because members fear he might create a charter network as large and successful as Harmony. Harmony had enrolled about 34,000 students across 56 campuses in 2018, including 4,000 in the Austin area.
Tarim said he would reapply. This is the second time the state has not approved his application for Royal.
A committee of the board on Thursday had recommended that the full board reject Royal. More than a dozen people testified against Royal, including Austin school district officials.
The Austin school district would lose $85 million over a 10-year period due to the loss of students to Royal Public Schools, Nicole Conley Johnson, the Austin district’s chief business and operations officer, told committee members.
“The district and our community can’t continue to sit idly on the side while our students and taxpayer funds are siphoned off by charter,” Conley Johnson told the American-Statesman after Friday’s vote. “We are certainly willing to compete, but in this case there were too many holes in what Royal was proposing, and our community saw right through it and made clear what the best choice was for our students.”
Responding to concerns raised by Pérez, Tarim denied he would ask prospective students about disciplinary history on the application form. He also promised to serve proportionately as many students with special needs as Austin district schools, although his application had said he would serve far less.
Tarim said he was meeting a need because no one else in the area would be integrating social emotional learning and science, technology, engineering and math curriculum as he was proposing.
The Austin school district has been one of the country’s pioneers of social emotional learning, Pérez said.
“It was very difficult for me to determine if it was innovative or unique,” she said. “Austin ISD has been implementing that for at least eight years on all of their campuses. Their pilots are even older than eight years. To implement SEL in every content area is absolutely nothing new.”
What stands out about all of this? Instead of using the state’s grading system to evaluate local schools, Tarim used one that supported his for-profit agenda. (Like he did in Washington County when he used numbers from U. S. News & World Report, instead of those from the Alabama department of education when he falsely claimed math proficiency levels were much lower than they actually are.)
And that he touted using social emotional learning because no one in the area was doing so when the truth is that Austin public schools have been using it for at least eight years.
This is Tarim at his finest. Ignore the truth. Make up your own facts.
And bless their hearts, our charter commission–unlike the Texas school board–does not question anything Traim tells them. We dance while he plays any tune he wishes. Maybe our commission should check with some folks in Texas about who they are dealing with. I will be glad to give them some phone numbers.