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Charter School Advocate and Mom Will Vote No

North Fulton mother says she found local control was critical after finding problems while her son attended Fulton Science Academy.

 

Georgia is in the midst of an intense debate over a proposed charter school amendment that will be on the ballot in November. Whatever your position, you need to read my story.

The polls predict this amendment will pass with flying colors, thanks to a misleading ballot question and a majority of funding from outside the state. If this amendment passes, politics and corporations will shape our schools. Groups with multi-faceted objectives are lining up to grab their market share. If a state controlled charter school comes to town, you will have no recourse if there is a problem.

Why Local Control is Critical

The problems I encountered at Fulton Science Academy were not anticipated by our local and state board of education or by educators across the country. Charter schools are new territory and bring new problems, however politicians should never ignore or bully a concerned parent into silence. Jan Jones is the author of the charter school amendment, had not only the power, but also the knowledge needed to create legislation that would protect our community, tax dollars and students.

My son attended Fulton Science Academy charter school, for three years, when I found out about problems that also led to my learning that the school was being operated by followers of the influential and controversial Turkish Imam, Fethullah Gulen.

Fulton Science Academy’s problems were serious and later validated, by an external audit, commissioned by the local school board. My concerns left me fearful to speak up because the Gulen movement is a powerful international organization and because of the federal investigation into the school. Details can be found in this article about Fulton Science Academy in the New York Times, by Stephanie Saul. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/06/us/audits-for-3-georgia-charter-schools-tied-to-gulen-movement.html)

Turns out the Gulen movement was the least of my worries.

The real problem? Legislators with tunnel vision, hoping to open the Georgia education frontier to more charter groups at any cost. My legislators demonstrated that they will look the other way, as long as, a school has high test scores. What is the impact if a school has received a National Blue Ribbon Award, as did this particular charter school? Well, it is untouchable.

Ultimately, the local school board held Fulton Science Academy accountable and did not renew its charter. The local school board did the right thing, which equaled political suicide. The politicians condemned the local school board’s decision, continue to vilify the board in public and have put legal pressure on the board to reverse their decision.

I understand that the landscape of education is changing and with that rules and regulations need to be adapted. However, it is irresponsible of the Governor and our legislators to lobby for a constitutional amendment that does not stop the known problematic consequences of charter schools.

Gulen?

While detractors like to scream foul when the Gulen connection is pointed out, this is no longer an issue debated in the national circles. Even our local Istanbul Center has been forthcoming about its link to Gulen.

So, if you want to call me names, that is OK. Let me get you started, I am an over-educated, naive, dumb, unassertive mom who sat back for two years and watched a charter school hi-jack our tax dollars, mislead parents and break rules.

(Oh. For those of you who want to call me other names, let me remind you that my son went to FSA for three years, I respect the diverse population of teachers and kids. I sought out that diversity and I am incredulous that the FSA administrators I trusted were not (or maybe could not be) forthcoming about the Gulen affiliation.)

Legislators?

It is all public record. The most vocal supporters of Fulton Science Academy have been Chip Roger, John Albers and Jan Jones, even after they knew about the issues I have described. The photos, the awards, the campaign contributions speak for themselves.

FSA supporters: the wind has shifted and the same politicians that lobbied for the school now state that Fulton Science Academy is a problem created by the local school board. A problem charter school that would never have been approved by a state board. So, much for the blue ribbon. (And the fact that local charter contracts are signed by the school, local BOE and State BOE)

Vote No

This is not a partisan issue. It is about keeping a voice in your community. I am a Republican and Hillsdale College alum, I understand the Republican agenda and I will vote no on this amendment.

Details, including the letter I sent to the North Fulton Delegation can be found at: www.georgiacharterschooldisgrace.com

Dana Teegardin

Roswell

PhatNate October 16, 2012 at 06:45 PM
I am not Gulen, I know people get called names and labeled all kinds of things on this blog when they something that is not full of hate for the FSA. But isn't the bottom line the fact that FSA students received a better education than those at the public schools for the same tax payer $$$? This all seems to be about tax payer money, but really isn’t tax payers money frequently wasted on inflated and fabricated expenses that are just hidden by good accountants anyway? It is like the cheating scandal at APS doesn't matter as long as the money is properly spent. Bottom line should be, “are the kids better off for the same $$$ at FSA?”
Monty Brewster October 16, 2012 at 09:20 PM
A better question would be: Why are these legislators not trying to fix the educational system we currently have instead of trying to start an entirely new one? Why are they not implementing ideas that have worked in charter schools in all schools? Isn't that what charters schools were originally used for... to try new ideas and then use those that worked in all schools? However, then they would actually have to do something that would help everyone, and they wouldn't get as many kickbacks from their corporate cronies.
Angela Lassetter October 16, 2012 at 11:32 PM
You should all be ashamed for lobbying to stop this amendment from being passed. PARENTS and STUDENTS are the only individuals that are truly able to determine if a school has value. Even if the state commissions loads of charter schools …. if no one attends then they close if they fail to outperform typical public schools they close if they violate ACTUAL laws then they close (not heresay and biased rhetoric) If a public school fails, on any front, it remains open and continues in its medocrity. Teegardin should be doubly ashamed for this story since she openly admits that she had no issues with FSA while her children attended the school. She, also, admits that her children WERE NOT taught religious or political ideology at FSA. Further, she has NO ACTUAL EVIDENCE to support her claims that this is a Gulen school. What is a Gulen school anyway? 60 minutes did an investigative report that found Fethullah Gulen had never visited any of the schools that these hysterical conspiracy theorists label with his name and does not in any way contribute or support U.S. charter schools financially. Show us some hard factual evidence!!!! Well, I guess it is easy to cast stones AFTER your children have received a superior education from FSA. She no longer has to worry, because she already benefited from the charter system and FSA in particular, now she is just doing her best to deny other children from having the same opportunities that hers did! Shameful behavior!
Angela Lassetter October 16, 2012 at 11:38 PM
Are these bloggists so bigoted that they now classify schools by the administration’s religious practices and national origin? Are all schools with Catholic administrators born in Italy now going to be known as Pope schools? Are schools with Christian administrators born in the South going to be lumped together at Stanley schools? REALLY? Honestly, if a Turkish Muslim administration can propel a charter school to be number one in the state of Georgia, get them nationally recognized, and does so in a more cost effective manner than a typical public school, then I think that we should start importing educational professionals from Turkey by the boatload to Georgia. They obviously are doing something right! Also, the audit commissioned by Fulton County Schools was no more than sensationalistic journalism. A second external audit of FSA by a reputable firm found that the Fulton County School's firm broke many auditing and accounting practices and found no actual wrong-doing at all. Further, during the 4 1/2 month long audit that Fulton County Schools conducted of FSA they could not find one penny that was unaccounted for in ten years!!!! All Fulton County's sad excuse for an audit could do was insinuate wrong-doing and question many of the very same practices that Fulton County Schools engages in, so that weak minded conspiracy theorists could scream foul. It is sad that my tax dollars paid for a piece of poorly written journalism that the county chose to call an audit.
Angela Lassetter October 16, 2012 at 11:51 PM
GA has been at the BOTTOM of the US in education for the last thirty years. Local School Boards and their Superintendents have done nothing but maintain the status quo and their expansive central offices. We need change! Of course the local boards do not want charter schools, REAL autonomous charter schools, because then parents would have a TRUE choice. Parents should be able to use their feet to vote on whether a school is successful or not. Results do not lie! As an example, Fulton County Schools is 60th out of 179 public school districts and falling. Many schools have failed AYP for more than 5 years in a row and only 73% of the schools make AYP. Their superintendent makes more than $250K. They also have one employee to every 7 kids. Also, they just put into place a $600,000 department to teach the NEW governing councils of their NEW charter system schools how to govern. These governing councils do not have the autonomy to govern anything, no budgets of consequence, and can't make any real meaningful decisions. So we are paying for nothing! Further, Fulton County Schools have even been found guilty, in a court of law, of covering up the abuse of special needs children, which ultimately resulted in the death of one of those students. Not only that, but then they promoted one of the very people involved in the cover-up to Chief of Fulton County Schools Police. Everyone in the upper tier, including the Board, needs to be fired and they need to start over.
Angela Lassetter October 16, 2012 at 11:57 PM
Legislators can't get around the Good Ol' Boy Network of Local Boards and Superintendents. They have tried over and over again to instill change in Georgia’s educational system, but our tax money is paying for the local board's media campaigns and spin tactics to pull the wool over the public's eyes. Further, the DOE is supporting their efforts, so Georgia just stagnates at the bottom of the country's educational rankings, while inefficient expansive central offices and boards remain in power. It is really sad for all Georgia's young people. Do your OWN research, taking into account ALL sides and real hard copy information… stop listening to these seriously disillusioned biased individuals! Give parents TRUE options and let parents determine what is the best educational choice for their children! Vote YES to the amendment and help GA pull itself out of its educational medocrity! Truly this amendment can't do any more harm than the DOE, local boards, and superintendents have already caused and maintained for three decades!
Elvis is king October 17, 2012 at 02:22 AM
Angela, This is a bad amendment. I agree with your own quote from your first of four rambling statements " PARENTS and STUDENTS are the only individuals that are truly able to determine if a school has value" This amendment in no way shape or form will do that. Blind faith in these politicians will get you in trouble. Don't fall in the trap.
Drowning the voice of reason? October 17, 2012 at 04:19 AM
This amendment is an attempt to follow the same path Florida has taken regarding charter schools. For an overview of how that is working out, read the Miami Tribune's investigative series http://www.miamiherald.com/charterschools/ It's fair warning to voters of this state. Angela, your postings above are remarkably similar in wording to a post on Diane Ravitch's blog in response to this same mother voicing her concerns. (http://dianeravitch.net/2012/10/11/georgia-parent-vote-no-on-constitutional-amendment/) Ms. Teegarden is no conspiracy theorist. Calling Ms. Teegarden names simply shows your level and proves nothing. The evidence is plain and has been documented world wide in very well regarded publications on ALL sides of the political spectrum. Frankly, Angela, you should be ashamed for attacking a concerned parent (who has the right to voice her opinion!) in this uncivil manner. When FSA was a public charter school and you served on the governing board, did you ever, ONCE, vote against decisions made by the rest of that board? So much for parental oversight of charter schools!
Drowning the voice of reason? October 17, 2012 at 04:28 AM
Agreed, Monty. Read the Miami Tribune series on charter schools in that state! http://www.miamiherald.com/charterschools/ Ms. Teegarden, thank you for your opinion piece and your pluck!
A Parent October 17, 2012 at 05:35 AM
FSA Cannot be a reason or bad example to vote No for the amendment. What is the failure of Fulton Science Academy? Receiving the National Blue Ribbon Award in the same year its contract has not been renewed? Is it because it is the 1st Blue Ribbon Charter School of the Georgia? http://so-calledgulencharterschools.blogspot.com/2012/09/so-called-gulen-charter-school-fulton.html If the concern is blurry audit report, FSA’s dispute to that audit report must be read: http://alpharetta.patch.com/articles/fulton-science-academy-responds-to-school-board-audit There is nothing FSA did wrong in past 10 year! Is there a Gulen or Gulen Movement Affiliation? You may read this: http://gulenschools.org/gulen-charter-schools.html After reading all kind of blogs about Gulen Movement affiliation, in my opinion it's a smear campaign recently started about FSA. It seems that those people who write on those blogs are not happy with the success of FSA Charter School. Maybe because of their political view, they are against success of all charter schools not only FSA. Please remember: No to this amendment, will be saying No to quality education and taking away the choice from parents and students.
R Thomas October 17, 2012 at 09:15 AM
Whatever public education complies with Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind, Common Core, 2013-'14 all public schools in Georgia MUST use outcome-based education (OBE), which keeps all students at the level of learning attainable by the slowest learner. Meaning, while no child is left behind, no child is allowed to plunge ahead, either ... except for the 20-25 percent SOMEONE chooses to be better educated. Is this the reason for such a push for Charter Schools. The cream of the crop will be educated there. Whose child will be chosen? Nowhere in the data I've found is superior education produced by charter schools, although HOME-SCHOOLED students consistently test better WITHOUT the "socialization" and OBE required in public schools. Remember, charter schools ARE public schools. The difference is they have authorization to WAIVE all state and local control to operate under a contract, but they CANNOT waive federal mandates and control. Yes, they must use OBE, but it's now mandated in Georgia as "performance-based" education, which is OBE re-named. http://www.georgiainsight.org/archives/August%202012.pdf
R Thomas October 17, 2012 at 09:22 AM
China pouring money into Florida for Charter Schools http://www.miamitodaynews.com/news/121004/story1.shtml If a foreign country would like to open a private school in the U.S. they should do so by going through the the proper channels and creating a private school. Not a public school (Charter School) funded with U.S. tax dollars.
R Thomas October 17, 2012 at 10:45 AM
No to this amendment would be saying YES to our children's right to have an education controlled by a local school board and parents. We want all children to success in whatever environment they are in. It, however, is a parent's right to be involved in their education and it is constitutional for there to be a local school board. Why are our legislators for this? There is federal money and grants flowing into the state to push this agenda and we as parent's have got to stand up and say NO.
John October 19, 2012 at 10:36 PM
Yes...Shame on you Teegardin ;)
Mary October 20, 2012 at 09:12 PM
Everyone is entitled to his or her opinions. Ms. Teegardin stated her opinions eloquently and respectfully. We are free to vote yes or no on the amendment. Just because you disagree with her, it does not mean her behavior was shameful.
GA citizen & taxpayer October 21, 2012 at 07:33 PM
I agree with Mary that Ms. Teegardin has stated her opinions eloquently and respectfully. Ms. Lassetter, on the other hand, has ranted and raved. It is telling that she, not Ms. Teegardin, was the one to add the word Muslim to Turkish when referring to the school's administration. Trying to stir up the pot, it would seem. Ms. Lassetter also states that "PARENTS and STUDENTS [her emphasis, not mine] are the only individuals that are truly able to determine if a school has value." So, teachers and other education professionals are not? Concerned citizens and taxpayers are not? It would seem that Ms. Lassetter is forgetting that charter schools are public schools. Last year, I spoke one-on-one with parents of FSAMS students. At the time, the parents were extremely upset about the possibility of the school being closed. What struck me most that they did not know and, worse, they said they did not care that there were serious problems with governance which had been exposed and the school board would not adequately address. If charter schools are indeed public schools, then there has to be accountability and transparency--every step of the way. The enabling bill HB 797 for Amendment 1 contains much too much wiggle room. H.R. 1162 is simply bad legislation. Vote NO on Amendment 1.
GA citizen & taxpayer October 21, 2012 at 07:34 PM
By the way, there is an impressive amount of verifiable data indicating significant improvement in Georgia schools: Georgia ranks 13th in the nation for students scoring a 3 or above on AP exams. The state ranks 2nd in the nation for the number of African American students scoring a 3 or above on AP exams. Georgia is one of 23 states showing improved SAT scores. Georgia is one of only eleven states showing improvement on SAT and ACT tests. Vote NO on Amendment 1.
Mike payne October 22, 2012 at 09:18 PM
GA schools are getting better, must be the invisible hand of competition that all the pro charter people have been trying to get the vote NO people to understand.
LOL October 22, 2012 at 11:27 PM
Yes, concern is blurry audit report.
Dana Teegardin October 27, 2012 at 01:22 PM
The issue is that charter schools are breaking the rules and the Charter School Amendment will not stop the problems we know about today. Representative Jan Jones had an opportunity to address the problems at a school in her district when she created the legislation but did not. It is irresponsible. I can't guess what will be next in Alpharetta...more land cleared and left sitting, another construction project that a charter school neglects to get bids, million dollar revenue bonds backed by the state? It is happening in Alpharetta and across the country. Fulton Science Academy's affiliation to Gulen schools is important because across the country this group is breaking the rules and wasting tax payer money. Charter schools are public schools it is ok to ask questions and insist that public charter schools are stable, transparent organizations that follow the rules. My son went to the school for 3 years, I knew and liked the teachers and administrators that were Turkish. What I didn't know was that tax payer money was being used to skirt the rules. Examples of other states: Teachers in Philly at Gulen affiliates: EEOC, FBI, etc. http://articles.philly.com/2011-03-20/news/29148147_1_gulen-schools-gulen-followers-charter-schools
Roswell Parent October 29, 2012 at 12:05 AM
Regarding that blurry audit report - I witnessed that incredible smear campaign close up. The superintendent having a 90 minute briefing with the AJC on a report that stated it was not for general publication and didn't follow standard accounting principles. FSA having to hear about the report from the media. FSA having to spend thousands of dollars for a real audit, that rebutted every argument in school board's report. That whole thing was a carefully orchestrated manipulation of the media to give the FCSB reason to shut down the #1 middle school in Fulton county in all 4 subjects, 4 years in a row. My kids went there for 5 years. It was a great school. Vote 'yes' on this amendment. Our children deserve better.
Malikah Striving October 30, 2012 at 11:07 PM
FOLLOW THE MONEY if you really want to know what this is all about..... FACT 1: Every single one of our school boards are paid for their “public service.” This accounts for $4.1 MILLION dollars in salary. With the austerity cuts, are board members donating their salaries back to put into classrooms? Nope. Just as an aside, charter board members receive $0 in compensation. Ever. FACT 2: Nearly one third of the superintendents in this state make in excess of $150,000 yearly. Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks, of Gwinnett County, makes $410,000 annually, followed closely by superintendents from Clayton, Atlanta Public Schools, Savannah-Chatham, Fulton, and Cobb (3 of which are in danger of loss of accreditation, by the way). 47 superintendents took a raise last year while furloughing educators. FACT 3: Our state spent $686 MILLION dollars on central office. 77 out of our 180 districts serve less than 3000 students and have FULL central offices and account for $67 MILLION dollars of the total spent. In these tough economic times, are districts in rural areas combining central offices to reduce duplicative costs? Are large districts cutting central offices to keep money in classrooms? No, and in fact, according to a recent study by Dr. Benjamin Scafidi of Georgia College and State University, central office growth has nearly doubled the growth of students.
Jim Beam October 31, 2012 at 12:10 AM
"Politics and corporations" cannot possible do a worse job at education than local boards are already doing. Vote YES to prevent parents from being trapped in traditional public school hellholes like APS, Bibb, DeKalb, Clayton and most of the rest of the nation's 48th ranked educational system. The NO crowd has no idea nor interest in educational improvement. Only increased funding via increased taxation (where else will it come from?)
Jim Beam October 31, 2012 at 12:36 AM
GA still graduates only 66% of its high school students. Nearly half of GA's technical college students (recent GA public HS grads) need remedial education. When you're at the bottom of the nation's educational test-score rankings, the only place to go is up. Vote YES on Amendment 1 to give parents a choice on how their children are educated, rather than trusting the various test-alterers and criminals running our public schools. Anyone who looks at the current state of GA public education and thinks no change is necessary is dangerously delusional.
Monty Brewster October 31, 2012 at 11:19 PM
Yeah...yeah... what could possibly go wrong with politicians and corporations have full access to taxpayer dollars? I'm sure that the politicians receiving huge campaign donations from the corporations would never do anything unethical. We can't get any less ethical here in the most politically corrupt state in the US.
David Chen November 01, 2012 at 02:39 PM
I do not find the author's argument convincing, it is actually pushing to another side. My kids are in barnwell and audrey mill and probably will be in johns creek high later. So far I am satisfied with our local school and do not plan to send them to any charter school. But I know there are people who are not satisfied with their local schools and I do not want to take away their right for an alternative choice. Vote yes to this amendment will not take away anybody's right to be educated in a school controlled by local school board. But voting no will certainly take away or at least severely limit the somebody's right of not being educated in a school controlled by local school board. The current situation of Fulton science academy is really a pity.
Monty Brewster November 04, 2012 at 07:48 PM
David, the State BOE can and is still approving charter schools. Voting no does not take away anyone's choice. Voting yes will limit the majority of the students in what they have available at their schools. There isn't enough money to open limitless charters AND fund public schools.
R Thomas November 04, 2012 at 10:15 PM
Monty, your comment highlights the fract that you have not looked outside your personal reason for wanting charter schools to the bigger picture. We have Charter Schools now and will CONTINUE to have Charter Schools. This is about an amendment that gives GA the right to conver public schools into a Charter System. Not as individual Charter Schools, but 1 system. Do you really think our g'vment has the best interest of our children at heart? We already have the process needed to accomplish the goal, yet they want an amendment. Cartersville, GA is already a Charter School system and Fulton is in the process of implementing the program. The first group is called Cohort 1 and includes 20 schools. Does it not concern you at all that that we are going to lose control as parents. Yes, I am sure there will be a few parents on the board to say they are involved, but they will NOT be the majority. Follow the link below. You will see this is truly not about competition for public schools, or school choice. This is about who will be picked to be a mechanic and who will be the 10-20%, cream of the crop, that will go on to higher education. I would suggest anyone that does not know exactly what Performance Based Edu/Outcome Based Edu or School to Work Edu is, educate yourself. Look outside your box with open eyes. Charter Schools as they are is good, that will change with this amendment. http://portal.fultonschools.org/chartersystem/Pages/Default.aspx

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