The nonprofit foundation is required to respond to the allegations by Nov. 6, according to a letter sent to a foundation representative by the state attorney general’s office where the complaints were filed.
Christine Rea, a parent of two former Charter Academy students, and Jennifer Hall, a Cherokee County School District teacher, filed two separate complaints during the month of October.
In a letter to Senior Assistant Attorney General Stefan Ritter sent Oct. 8, Rea said her three complaints are: The board failed to advertise its Aug. 30 board meeting, improperly advertised for its Sept. 27 meeting and inappropriately entered into executive session for training and planning.
“The locations of the meetings for GCEF is rarely if ever published, but there are other members of the board who meet in person somewhere,” Rea stated in the letter. “ Some of its members call in this way to participate and vote, while others are clearly in a room together.”
The GCEF meetings are only accessible to the public via teleconference call, according to the foundation’s meeting agendas.
Rea states GCEF is “not compliant” in posting meeting notices on its website.
“Sometimes notice is given a day in advance, sometimes two or three days,” her letter states.
Rea said no finalized meeting date was given at the close of the July 26 meeting for its next meeting and the organization did not post notice for its August meeting. She added that a meeting notice for the Sept. 27 meeting was posted for 9 a.m., though the meeting actually began at 10 a.m.
Rea’s final complaint was that at the Sept. 27 meeting, Board Chair Lyn Carden said the board would be entering into executive session for board training, which was listed as an executive session item but is not an item permitted to be discussed under executive session.
Sent Oct. 24, the day before GCEF’s most recent meeting, Hall’s letter also states the foundation violated the Open Meetings Act by advertising the incorrect time and date (Saturday, Oct. 27 at 9 a.m.) on its website, though Hall confirmed through another source that was incorrect.
The meeting was Oct. 25, at 11 a.m. Hall also included a copy of the posted agenda from the foundation’s website, which stated the meeting would be held Thursday, Sept. 27 at 9 a.m.
Rea said in an interview Tuesday her goal in filing the complaint is to make people aware, especially with the upcoming vote on Amendment 1, which would re-authorize the Georgia Charter Schools Commission after it was struck down by the Supreme Court in May.
The seven-member, appointed commission would be charged with hearing charter school petitions that have been turned down by local school boards.
“People need to know what’s going on and how they operate behind closed doors,” Rea said. “Our taxpayer dollars are funding this type of thing and people need to know, especially with Amendment 1 right now.”
Rea said she is very involved with the opposition to Amendment 1 and has been following GCEF closely since her three children were enrolled in Cherokee Charter Academy and after they re-enrolled in Cherokee County School District schools mid-year last year.
Rea said her complaint is not driven by ill will and not an organized attempt with Hall, whom she called an acquaintance, as she was unaware Hall filed her own complaint.
“I obviously was open enough to send my kids to a charter school and thought that school choice was important,” Rea said. “I still feel choice is important and think charter schools serve a purpose, but right now there’s a lot that seems to be wrong with how it’s being done.”
Rea said her hope is that the board makes the appropriate changes.
“Fix it. Make it right,” she said. “Don’t deny people that want to call in to conference call at a certain time and you’ve changed it deceptively.”
Rea said she has not yet received any correspondence from Ritter’s office.
Hall said she was prompted to file her complaint after she noticed the meetings continued to be improperly advertised.
“I can see a mistake being made once, but it’s a pattern of behavior,” Hall said.
As a longtime teacher, Hall said she is also a supporter of school choice but that is not the issue.
“(GCEF) needs to advertise properly and correctly so members of the general public can participate in these meetings,” Hall said.
Dated Friday, Oct. 26, Ritter sent a letter to Sandy Castro, state coordinator of operations for GCEF, citing only the complaint from Hall.
Ritter outlined Hall’s complaint in the letter to Castro: “Specifically, Ms. Hall asserts that the date and time is wrong on the October agenda on the website, the meetings are not advertised at least seven days in advance of the meeting and the schedule of regular meetings is not on the foundation’s website.”
Castro said in an email Tuesday she has received a request for a response to a complaint from the attorney general’s office.
“We have thoroughly researched the issue and the Georgia Charter Educational Foundation will submit their response to the Attorney General’s office within the allotted time as designated on the response request,” Castro said.
Ritter asks the foundation to provide a response to the allegations by Nov. 6.
Under Georgia law, the attorney general has the discretionary authority to enforce the Open Records Act, O.C.G.A 50-14-5(a). Attorney General Sam Olens established a mediation program to assist in resolving disputes between citizens and local governments, Ritter said.
In an interview Tuesday, Ritter said his office is geared toward trying to resolve citizen disputes with local governments.
“In a case like this, our first step is to read the letters and see if a valid argument is made that the (Open Records) Act is being violated,” Ritter said. “If so, we send a letter to their attorney and ask them to comment. When we get the comment back, then we can respond to them and tell them whether we think they are or are not in violation.”
Ritter said more than 80 percent of the time, local government agencies send back a “mea culpa” saying they were not aware of the violation and they intend to fix it.
“From our perspective, that resolves it,” Ritter said.
Ritter said he understood people are “anxious” to see his office’s findings prior to the election, but he said his office’s determination will occur after Election Day, which is the last day for GCEF to respond to the allegations.
But Hall had a very different take.
“(My complaint) doesn’t have anything to do with the vote,” Hall said. “ It’s not an issue with that because even if Amendment 1 does not pass, Cherokee Charter Academy doesn’t go away, nor would I want it to. Being resolved before or after (the election) makes no difference to me. I just want it resolved correctly and the transparency needs to be there.”
The Georgia Charter Educational Foundation Governing Board is made up of seven members charged with managing Cherokee Charter Academy and Coweta Charter Academy in Senoia, as well as each school’s approximately five-member Local Governing Council. The foundation serves as the founding board and petitioner for the two schools.