Contract for Montgomery charter school conversion plan fails to pass

Contract for Montgomery charter school conversion plan fails to pass

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A contract for a charter school conversion plan in Montgomery failed to pass during Tuesday’s Montgomery County Board of Education meeting.

Tuesday was the deadline for the MCBOE to negotiate and sign a contract hammering out details in the Montgomery Education Foundation’s Lanier Feeder Conversion Charter School plan. The plan targets Sidney Lanier High School and the schools that feed into it: E.D. Nixon Elementary, Davis Elementary and Bellingrath Middle School.

MPS Superintendent Ann Roy Moore did recommend approval of the charter contracts, and board member Lesa Keith motioned for the school board to vote on the contract but there was no second on the motion and it died without the board voting.

Board members received the four contracts, one for each school in the plan, around 5:30 pm on Sunday. Moore apologized to the board for the short time period to review the contract, saying she had planned to get it to them days earlier but was unable to because of ongoing negotiations.

“I recognize the gifts and efforts of, not only the Montgomery Public Schools staff, but also the Montgomery Education Foundation said,” Dr. Brenda DeRamus-Coleman, MPS board member for District 3, said. “They invested a lot of time and energy. I think they deserve the opportunity to be heard, but I do not think we had enough time to really understand all of the things they wanted to do.”

Keith, the only member to move to have the contracts approved, said she felt the charter schools would have benefited MPS by raising standards.

“All this was doing was changing the teachers,” Keith said. “It would have basically given us the spirit of competition. They don’t want the spirit of competition because they know the charter schools would show the traditional schools what they don’t have. We have qualified teachers, but we don’t have as many qualified teachers as we could have had with charter.”

MEF’s Justin Hampton said the foundation was disappointed by the board’s decision.

“We’re disappointed and somewhat surprised,” Hampton said. “We expected an outcome, not necessarily in our favor, but in favor of all of MPS. What I will say is the unity we saw today on the board is a positive. For the majority, if not all but one, to come together and make a decision that they feel was in the best interest of MPS, I think is a win for everybody. Of course we would have wanted to see the charter school contract approved, so we could have started work to move forward, but I think there are some positive things to take away from today as well.”

A number of community leaders attended Tuesday’s meeting with vocal opposition to the plan, including State School Board Member Ella Bell. Bell said she and fellow board member Ella Bell represent Montgomery County and were never informed about the plan.

“I always tell my constituents all the time that I do not support charters,” Bell said. “I had to call him [Mackey] and tell him not to associate me with charters because I do not support charters. I was elected in 2000, the Montgomery Education Foundation was in business then. If the schools are so bad, and we have to go through so many changes, what makes them the experts?”

Keith said she hopes the state will intervene to override the board’s decision.

“I hope Dr. Mackey will step forward and carry out what Dr. Richardson put in place,” Keith said. “He has the power to do that. Will he do that? I don’t know. All I can say is if he doesn’t do that, we’re stuck.”

Though State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey was able to approve the conversion plan without MCBOE approval, due to the school system being under a state intervention, a contract between MEF and the school board needed to be negotiated and signed to decide on details like the timeline for the conversion of the schools. Though state intervention law indicates Mackey would likely have the authority to overturn the board’s decision, his office confirmed the board’s decision is final on Tuesday afternoon.

Mackey released this statement: “When I began as state superintendent, the Montgomery Public Schools were under state intervention largely due to issues dealing with finances and board governance. Since that time the initial AdvancED monitoring evaluation has been implemented. As MPS’ recent monitoring review illustrates, the system has made significant strides to overcome its barriers and address improvement priorities. One of the monitoring review’s primary objectives is to create leadership capacity within MPS, starting with the MPS Board. The AdvancED update shows emerging improvement in MPS Board’s governing authority as well as their ability to establish and comply with policy,” Mackey said.

“With MPS’ board showing earnest engagement and thoughtfulness to the issue of the charter school application at hand, I will not supersede or overrule this board’s decision to not approve the application. Under intervention, it is not the Alabama State Department of Education’s desire to usurp the authority of the MPS board indefinitely. We are to assist with stabilizing the Board and ultimately release them to their own authority. As the AdvancED monitoring review report shows MPS is progressing towards satisfactory board governance, I advocate for increased autonomy for the MPS Board as they work through improving the established priorities and creating an even stronger school system to address the need of their students, faculty, staff, and community.”

Meanwhile, Moore said the process she and her team underwent to prepare the contracts was not in vain.

“Because we have a charter school law in place in Alabama, I think we will eventually probably end up with a charter,” Moore said. “We’ve now delved into the law, and we know it forward and backward. If there’s another go round, we’ll be fully prepared to deal with what needs to be done.”

Moore said the state’s statute for the charter process covers every detail, except what happens if the contract is denied. She said she is unsure how the process will move forward. Hampton said MEF will continue to work with MPS to benefit the system. However, like Moore, he said he doesn’t exactly know what’s next for their plan.

MPS confirmed the Thursday night charter information meeting that was scheduled for 6 p.m. at Bellingrath Middle School is canceled.

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