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Cobb Charter School Rejected

East Cobb school board member David Banks voted in favor of keeping open the Imagine Academy in Mableton, while Scott Sweeney voted against.

Tears streamed down young students faces and frustrated parents vowed they would continue to fight the closure of Imagine International Academy of Mableton for the 2012-13 school year.

The Cobb County Board of Education voted 4-3 not to renew the charter’s two-year petition at the board meeting Thursday night.

A large contingent of Mableton charter supporters blanketed the back of the district’s Central Office boardroom wearing blue T-shirts. Seven of those supporters, including four students, pleaded with the board to keep open the five-year-old school with a current enrollment of 621 students during the public comment portion of the 98-minute meeting.

Citing a history of poor leadership and financial mismanagement, along with lacking consistent committed parental involvement, board members Alison Bartlett of Marietta’s Post 7, David Morgan of South Cobb’s Post 3, Lynnda Crowder-Eagle of West Cobb’s Post 1 and Scott Sweeney of East Cobb’s Post 6 backed Superintendent Michael Hinojosa’s recommendation to close the school.

David Banks of East and Northeast Cobb’s Post 5, Kathleen Angelucci of North Cobb’s Post 4 and Tim Stultz of Smyrna’s Post 2 voted in favor of keeping the school open. The board members noted the school’s growing enrollment and a need for parents to have choice in their children’s education.

The vote marked the first time the school board had closed a start-up charter, said Area Superintendent Robert Benson, who oversaw the district’s charter petition process.

Imagine Mableton sixth grader Armani Singh, who made a passionate appeal to the board, couldn’t contain her tears following the board’s vote.

“I don’t feel good,” Armani said as the charter school's supporters gathered in the darkened parking lot after the vote.

“I think our school should stay open because we have great teachers and great classmates. I don’t know why they want to close our school down. Other students come to our school complaining about their old school and they don’t want to close down those schools. We have a great school and they want to close it down?”

Parent Wanda Tyree’s son, Myles, has attended Imagine Mableton since the school’s inception in 2007. Tyree was furious with Morgan following the vote.

“This is not politics, this is for children and I don’t appreciate it,” she said. “The enrollment is up. I’m frustrated. I’m a homeowner and I’m looking to relocate … If I am still in the area, I’ll make sure that no votes are cast for David Morgan.”

Diane Beatty, Imagine International Academy of Mableton’s executive vice president, said the school plans to seek a written statement from the Cobb County Board of Education required by the Georgia Code. The code states that within 60 days, a local board following a charter school denial needs to “specifically state the reasons for the denial, list the deficiencies in the petition … provide a written statement of denial to the petitioner" and the state Board of Education.

“The district staff did not follow the renewal process set by the (state) Department of Education,” Beatty said. “What we’re going to do is ask them to review the process in place and afford us the opportunity to answer their concerns … There’s a whole lot to this story.”

Morgan said after the meeting that Imagine Mableton representatives “can resubmit a charter petition any time.”

Watching the board vote 6-1 with Morgan dissenting to renew International Academy of Smyrna’s charter for five years angered Imagine Mableton supporters further. As some gathered to watch the vote on the television outside the boardroom, they rallied around the fact that the Smyrna school didn’t make Adequate Yearly Progress in 2011 for the first time in its four-year history while Mableton made AYP for the second time in its history.  

“Last night was very emotional, but it was a bittersweet moment because both the Mableton and Smyrna charter schools started at the same time and we were sister schools with us being Imagine schools to start out with,” said International Academy of Smyrna Board Chair Cheryl Wilson Friday morning. “We’re very excited that we’ll be able to continue to offer parents a choice in education for their children.”

The board also voted to support Hinojosa’s recommendation to not approve proposed charter school petitions from STEAM Academy of Cobb and Turning Point Charter Leadership Academy School of Excellence.

In other school board votes, board members approved three discussion items through unanimous decisions:

  • Awarding a $4.3 million bid to purchase and install a new “Internet Protocol Based Security Camera and Surveillance System” to LMI Systems of Tucker from Oct. 1, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2012. District Public Safety Director Jim Arrowood told the board that the new cameras would be placed initially at the district’s 69 elementary schools since the high schools and middle schools already have cameras. The plan would place six external cameras and two internal cameras around each school.
  • Purchasing a HRMS/Payroll Solution from Tyler Technologies of Dallas, Texas, for $3,043,341 as the district replaces the Payroll and Human Resource Management System to “maximize the use of current technology and functionality” in multiple areas. Operational Deputy Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said the district won’t use the new system until January 2013 as the old and new systems would run parallel “until we set a live date” to switch.
  • Purchasing 2.1 acres of land for construction of a second entry drive at Bryant Elementary for $169,900 from Ronald Weis and Eagle Lake Inc.

In non-voting news, board members Angelucci and Stultz announced that appointees they named to the citizens oversight Facilities & Technology Committee were leaving. Angelucci said Earl Stine would be replaced by Wayne Brown, and Stultz said Beth Pollard was moving to Jacksonville, Fla., to accept a job. Stultz said he planned to name Pollard’s replacement at the Oct. 12 work session.   

Sweeney closed the night by questioning the legality of the recent effort by Georgia to seek an alternative to the federal mandate of No Child Left Behind. He asked Hinojosa to find out from the Georgia Department of Education what the proposed changes would mean to the district since its Strategic Plan includes references to the accountability indicator.

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