Source: NorthFulton.com

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State refuses charter petitions to Fulton Science Academy, Sunshine Academy
Schools failed to follow rules to become state chartered

by Candy Waylock

August 06, 2013

ATLANTA Officials with Fulton Science Academy High School (FSAHS) are undaunted by the recent rejection of its application to become a state commissioned charter school, noting the outstanding issues are in the process of being resolved. But state officials say they missed the boat for this school year.

FSAHS and its elementary counterpart, Fulton Sunshine Academy, had sought to become state charter schools for the 2014-2015 school year, allowing the schools to move out from under the direction and control of the Fulton County Board of Education.

However, officials with the State Charter Schools Commission of Georgia (SCSC) said the applications were not submitted in accordance with state law, and could not be considered in the 2013 Charter Petition Cycle.

The July 25 SCSC letter noted both schools were required to receive a waiver from their existing authorizer in both cases the Fulton School Board prior to submitting a petition to become a state charter school. Both schools are currently under a charter agreement with Fulton Schools through June 30, 2015, although Fulton is seeking state approval to terminate the charter of the high school.

"I understand this will be disappointing to you and your stakeholders, but the SCSC encourages you to submit a revised petition in a subsequent petition cycle," wrote Bonnie Holliday, executive director of the SCSC.

The SCSC was formed last year after the passage of a constitutional amendment allowing the state to approve charter schools without the approval of local boards of education. The commission had existed previously and had approved 14 state charter schools before being struck down as unconstitutional. Last year's vote allowed the commission to re-form.

Despite the ruling from the SCSC, officials with the Fulton Science Academy High School say they don't believe the decision is final, and are working to resolve the outstanding issues.

"First of all, this is not a final decision," said Principal Namik Sercan of FSA HS. "We are working on it with Fulton County [schools] and the state. This is not an appeals process, but the issue will be resolved."

However, a spokesperson for the SCSC said the decision, at least for this cycle, has been made.

"The petition for the Fulton Science Academy High School will not be considered as part of the State Charter Schools Commission's 2013 Petition Cycle for the reasons outlined in Ms. Holliday's letter," said Gregg Stevens, general counsel and petitions manager for the SCSC.

He added the commission is currently exploring options for existing charter schools that wish to apply to the SCSC to do so without a waiver, but that process has not yet been developed.

"I anticipate having a process in place at some point during the 2013-2014 school year, but I cannot guarantee when the process will be finalized or implemented," said Stevens.

This latest action continues the roller coaster ride taken by the FSA HS over the past year. The school has been beset by low enrollment numbers since opening eight years ago, and came close to shuttering six years ago before it stabilized its finances. Last winter, the Fulton County Board of Education voted to terminate the school's charter with two years remaining in the charter, citing financial and organizational concerns.

After months of review by the state Department of Education, during which time its prospects for opening for the 2013-2014 school year were questionable, the decision was returned to Fulton Schools for further review.

While the school is now legally allowed to open next week for the school year, it is unclear how many students will return, or if the school is able to attract enough new students to viably function.

Sercan said last week he does not have firm numbers of enrollment for the new school year, but was pleased with the numbers. The school held two Enrollment Open Houses and marketed the school heavily to rising freshman. Last year, the high school ended the year with approximately 250 students.

"I am very pleased [with our enrollment]," said Sercan. "There has been a good rate of returning student and new students as well."

Officials with the Fulton School System have been quiet on any plans for FSA HS for the coming year from their end, noting only the issue is being explored by their attorneys. The system had not planned on FSA HS being open for the 2013-2014 school year and had re-enrolled most of the school's students into other schools.