Attorney: School broke meeting law
by Megan Thornton
mthornton@cherokeetribune.com
November 29, 2012 12:51 AM | 2784 views | 3 3 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CANTON — Cherokee Charter Academy’s non-profit governing board unanimously approved a management agreement with Charter Schools USA at its regular meeting Wednesday after only discussing the contract in executive session.

The contract was not released for public review until after the vote was taken.

The board on Wednesday also released minutes of a Nov. 9 closed executive session where they discussed the contract after voting to go behind closed doors to discuss real estate and records their attorney says are exempt from state Sunshine Law.

However, Georgia Press Association attorney David Hudson disagreed with that assessment.

“There is no exception in the open meetings law that allows a closed session to go over a proposed management contract,” Hudson said in an email Wednesday. “Also, the exception for open meetings relating to property, found in Section 50-14-3(b)(1)(B)-(E) applies to the discussion and negotiation concerning real property and not personalty.”

None of the board’s five members present at the meeting held Wednesday via telephone commented on the contract after Board Chairwoman Lyn Carden asked for a motion to approve the agreement since each of the board members “had time to review” their agenda packets.

The contract was released to the media later Wednesday following requests for the document.

One of the most apparent changes to the new agreement is Florida-based Charter Schools USA is now entitled to compensation for its service in an amount not to exceed 15 percent of revenues from overall budget from both the Cherokee school and Coweta Charter Academy.

Other changes to the management agreement included definite timelines for budget reporting, a narrower definition of revenues to include the 15 percent fee cap, a more clearly-defined relationship between CSUSA, staff and the board and inclusion of stronger default provisions favoring the board’s ability to terminate its management agreement.

Board members Carden, Parker, Danny Dukes, Frederick Black, Christine Ries and Bob Young were on the call Wednesday when the vote was taken. McIntyre was absent.

Others on the line included CSUSA Vice President of Operations Richard Page, GCEF Executive Director Danny Brewington, CCA Principal Vanessa Suarez and other CSUSA staff members.

When asked Wednesday what type of property was discussed in the executive session, Fortson said the law encompasses “several forms” of property.

“Charter school funds are their property,” Fortson said.

Fortson said Wednesday the new agreement provides more autonomy for the board and both schools’ local governing councils.

“It better clarifies the role of the board as its governing authority,” Fortson said.

Present in the November executive session were Carden, GCEF attorney Rob Fortson, Vice Chairwoman Marian Parker, board member John McIntyre and CSUSA representative Danny Brewington.

According to the minutes from Nov. 9, the reasons cited by its newly formed legal and compliance committee for going into the executive session were: to enter into a contract to purchase, dispose of or lease property subject to approval in a subsequent public vote; as well as discuss records exempt from public inspection or disclosure pursuant to Article 4 of Chapter 18 of Title 20.

The minutes show Carden requested Fortson “go thru (sic) the proposed changes to the management agreement which he did. The committee discussed changes they’d like to see in the counter proposal which is being sent to CSUSA.”

No questions or comments were cited in the minutes.

The approval comes just a day before for both Cherokee and Coweta Charter Academy’s panel interviews with state Board of Education officials tomorrow morning to consider each school’s petition for renewal of their respective charters. Carden said the schools should hear back about approval sometime in February or March

Judith Brown, who during Wednesday’s meeting presented Cherokee Charter Academy’s financials for the year through last month, said the school is short $22,614 or 1 percent of total revenues mostly due to budgeting the receipt to Title I revenues in September, $48,280 of which it has not received.

Total costs of compensations were also less than budgeted by $58,259 due to budget timing issues. Professional services came in under budget in large part due to professional fees that were not budgeted to the tune of $19,942.

Carden said those are expenses for planning its petition as well as future strategic planning.

The school also spent $37,292 more than budgeted on textbooks due to operating an additional kindergarten class.

However, the school saw savings in instructional supplies because it spent $60,376 less than budgeted on student supplies—a possible savings if determined the school has bought all necessary supplies.

Other operational expenses took a hit because of electricity and water services.

Brown said Watermarke Church, who recently installed a meter at the location, has been billed through September, as it was believed the school was incurring expenses from the church’s water use. Brown said electricity was underbudgeted by $13,329.

Total expenses were $60,998 more than budgeted but overall, the school saw a positive change in fund balance of $19,933 for a total of $231,793.

Brown said the school is forecasted to end the year with $125,000 surplus.

“It’s early in the year, so we expect that will change but it’s looking good so far,” Brown said.

In school reports, Suarez said Cherokee Charter Academy has 1,003 students enrolled with 995 budgeted and 99 percent in attendance.

Within the last month, 15 students withdrew, with three of those moving out of the area, six citing transportation issues, three due to disciplinary issues, one who wished to return to his or her home school, one wanting to go back to his former school to be with friends and one who never started school after enrollment.

Additionally, 19 students faced in-school suspensions and six had out-of-school suspensions within the last month.

CCA added 14 new students in the last month and has 134 students on its waitlist.

The school also added one staff member to fill a vacant part-time cafeteria worker role.

Carden said during Wednesday’s meeting the next GCEF meeting date is tentatively Dec. 29.

“As soon as I know for sure if we do have business, within the next week or so, I will get notice out to actually do it that day,” Carden said.

According to the foundation’s website, the next meeting is Thursday, Dec. 27, at 10 a.m. The foundation only meets via teleconference and is required to post its meeting times a day in advance of the meeting.
Comments
(3)
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Kay H
|
November 29, 2012
Charter Schools USA gets HOW MUCH money to manage a "public" school in our community? They openly defy Sunshine Laws over and over and then take their "profits" back to Florida -- money that should be spent on our children in Cherokee County. Please kick them (and Mr. Fortson) out!!!
2Ridiculous
|
November 29, 2012
“Charter school funds are their property,” Fortson said. Um, no Mr. Attorney, they most certainly are not. Charter schools funds are PUBLIC property. If you want to act like a private school, then go be a private school. If you take public money, follow the law and let in the sunshine. Period.
No Accountability
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November 29, 2012
As long as this school is operating with our tax dollars they need to follow state laws - no exceptions!

I would like to know where is the bidding process in selecting a management company. How is it legal for this school operating with our tax revenue to enter into a contract with CCUSA without excepting bids from other management companies. A 15% management fee seems like a lot of money.
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