Uncertainty faces Fulton Science Academy as state mulls charter application

Decision on charter renewal likely to come after end of school year



ALPHARETTA, Ga. — The fate of the Fulton Science Academy Middle School will likely not be determined by the end of the current school year, leaving parents, students and school staff in a state of flux for at least three more months.

In December, the Fulton County School Board rejected the charter school’s application for a charter renewal, effectively severing the relationship between the school district and the academically successful charter school. FSA has been in operation for 10 years in Fulton County and was recently named a National School of Excellence.

Problems with the length of the charter, as well as the flexibility requested by the charter school, led to its denial by the school board.

With local options exhausted, FSA applied to the state Department of Education (GDOE) in December to become a state charter school beginning with the 2012-2013 school year.

According to state officials, the final decision will be made by the state Board of Education in June, once the application has been thoroughly reviewed.

“The GDOE Charter Schools Division is processing the FSA application and working through any issues to ensure that it is properly vetted before the state school superintendent [John Barge] takes a recommendation to the state Board of Education,” explained Justin Pauly, spokesman for the state BOE.

Louis Erste, director of the Charter Schools Division of the GDOE, said the application for FSA is following the same process as other charter applications, and FSA officials were aware of the timeline when the application was submitted in late December.

“It is still our expectation that FSA and the two [other] charter decisions will appear as items for information in May and as action items in June on the state Board of Education’s meeting agendas,” said Erste.

Meanwhile, the Fulton County School System is moving forward with plans to transition the nearly 300 current sixth- and seventh-graders at FSA back into traditional middle schools. However, FSA maintains nearly every student has committed to returning to FSA, and there are more than 430 students on a waiting list for next year.

According to minutes from the FSA Governing Board, the school will stay in its current building through December, and is looking to reserve funds to bridge any financial gaps. Should the middle school not get approval of its petition, the governing board has the option to assign the building for its high school (FSA High School).

Current staff members are also being offered an incentive to sign contracts prior to the charter renewal decision, and FSA will pay a three-month severance to teachers should the school not receive approval from the state and close.

The indecision over the plans for FSA also impacts local middle schools, which are looking at two enrollment projections for next school year: one with FSA students returning, and one without.

In the meantime, construction has stopped on a new school building in Alpharetta that was intended to house FSA Middle School, FSA High School and the elementary school, Fulton Sunshine Academy. The school, which is being funded by an $18 million bond, is on hold, pending the state approval of the charter. If approved, FSA officials say they anticipate construction to be complete by January 2013.

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