Chapman enumerated several issues he had with Geist, including his criticism of board decisions, two recent public appearances in support of Cherokee Charter Academy, self-published newsletters alleging Superintendent Dr. Petruzielo and administrators are “fabricating” information, and attending a local organization’s meeting without the consent of the board.
“This allegation alone could jeopardize accreditation,” Chapman said of the last accusation.
Later in the meeting, Geist defended his actions in supporting CCA and, as he did in the newsletter, again questioned the political motivations of some of the board’s recent actions.
Chapman, who was drawn out of his post on the school board during legislative redistricting earlier this year, said accreditation officials can take steps to put a district on probation at any time if they determine school board members are interfering with school system operations.
“…You have served on the school board since Jan. 1, 2010, have undergone board training and should know better,” Chapman said.
Chapman also requested Geist come to the Dec. 6 meeting with answers to several questions about CCA, as he accused him of never fulfilling his promised role of being the “liaison” with the charter school. He said the public has a right to know more about the status of CCA’s acceptance of low-income, special education and limited English proficiency students, as their tax dollars pay for the school.
“I am tired of hearing from supporters of CCA that I—it’s disgusting—and my fellow board members and Dr. P do not really care about the kids,” Chapman said. “That is hurtful and clearly nowhere near the truth. As I have stated a thousand times in the past I hope, pray and wish the very best for the children and their families at CCA. As those children—more than 210 now—continue to flow back into the CCSD, we welcome them and offer them the best education we can possibly provide, regardless of social status, disability or cost.”
In what he alleges is the “most egregious” violation, Chapman said Geist’s attendance at Cherokee Citizens for the Kids’ April meeting compromised the board and school system administration.
“Without the consent of the board, you allegedly attended a meeting in April with the intention of swaying opinions and bullying the attendees regarding the charter school issue,” Chapman said. “You went so far as to ask only the teaching CCFTK members who their employer was while you had no concern who the employers were of the other members attending….overstepping your bounds as a board member and inserting yourself in an inappropriate fashion.”
Geist told the Tribune in May he was invited to the meeting by CCA local governing council chairwoman Heather Blevins and did not know any of the members at the meeting except for CCFTK President Michele Dodge. S published in the May 5 edition, Geist said he found it “very sad” his presence at the meeting was characterized as an act of intimidation.
“In asking whether they worked for the district, I was only trying to be cordial,” Geist said at the time. “By all appearances the meeting ended on a very friendly note and it is hard not to wonder whether this issue was manufactured after the fact to score political points with those who might be inclined to believe it.”
Also, Chapman said Geist has undermined Petruzielo’s authority in his self-published document titled “The Charter School Debate,” that was sent out to constituents during the primary election season via email blasts and on his now-defunct webpage, www.2electmichael.org.
In the two-page document, Chapman said Geist outlines false claims that the Cherokee Academies initiative should be credited to the existence of Cherokee Charter Academy.
“The notion of competition from CCA is illogical, as CCA in the past school year offered no unique programs when compared with school district schools,” Chapman said.
Additionally, Chapman said Geist is not “reflect(ing) through actions that his first and foremost concern is for the educational welfare of children attending schools within the school system,” another board policy he cited.
Chapman said Geist has the right as a citizen to speak in support of Amendment 1 and attend charter school rallies, as Geist has done recently, but has demonstrated his main concern is not CCSD students.
“I do wonder why I have never heard you voice an opinion or construct a platform that supports the 39,000 kids in our school system,” Chapman said. “I do hear you out in public speaking in support of less than 1,000 kids at CCA.”
Chapman also alleged Geist violated board policy by surrendering his judgment to special interest groups.
“Clearly you are surrendering to the special interest groups/charter schools and your decisions are not at all based upon the facts as presented by the school district you were elected to represent,” Chapman said.
Another board policy states that while board members can express opinions before a vote is cast, board members must abide by and support all majority decisions.
Chapman alleges Geist has not supported the board’s 4-3 decision in June 2011 to deny Cherokee Charter Academy’s application. Geist was one of the dissenting votes.
“You are required to abide by School Board Policy and refrain from publicly expressing criticism of the School Board’s decision and any appearance of having greater concern for CCA students than for School District students,” Chapman said. “While your children attend CCA, it is your role as a Cherokee County school board member, according to board policy, to have greater concern for the school district’s schools than for CCA.”
After finishing his over 15-minute-long speech, Chapman received applause from some members of the audience.
Geist said he was unaware Chapman would be making the allegations and wanted to respond in full at the next board meeting, but took time to answer a few of his points Thursday night.
Geist said his desire to promote CCA comes from not only the benefits received by its students, but the district at large. He said his actions have been more about promoting choice and charters as opposed to calling into question the performance of the district.
“It seems to me that you haven’t hesitated in your comments tonight to draw that conclusion to characterize my actions that I do not care about the kids in our school system,” Geist said. “I think my actions, my concerns and all of the arguments that you raise can be viewed from two different perspectives and the one that you present tonight is not the only one people may see.”
Geist said he was concerned the way the board makes decisions frequently appears politically driven, rather than by what is best for the students.
“I think in terms of timing in actions, pursuing those and presenting resolutions or comments… when they frequently appear to have political motivations beyond the welfare of our children is something that concerns me,” Geist said.
Geist said he wondered whether the timing of Chapman’s comments were intended to gain publicity in an attempt to have an impact on Tuesday’s vote on Amendment 1.
“I think our focus needs to be less on politics, more on the welfare of children,” Geist said. “That being said, I will try to address your comments in detail... I will address them in full next board meeting. if not prior to.”
While all other board members remained mum after the accusations, Board Vice Chairwoman Janet Read followed up by saying she looked forward to hearing the answers to Chapman’s questions.
“I also would take offense that resolutions and things were done for political reasons,” Read said. “I can say as a board member for the last eight years that my decisions are always for the children.”
Also at the meeting, the board:
n Approved 7-0 the sale of $40 million in general obligation bonds;
n Tabled the decision to vote on the proposed 2012 Legislative Priorities document until the Dec. 6 meeting;
n Approved unanimously the district’s Five-Year Strategic Plan; and
n Approved 7-0 a contract with Ninth District Opportunity, Inc.