District to take over charter school
With Vantage Point Charter School reeling from state allegations of fiscal irresponsibility, Ready Springs School District trustees Tuesday voted to reassign Director Tessa McGarr and assume control of the Penn Valley school.
The three-hour meeting was punctuated with personal attacks and shouts of disapproval from parents, many of whom praised the education their children received at the 7-year-old school.
They also criticized the often stormy relationship between charter school staff and the Ready Springs administration. Many in the audience defended McGarr, whose new position was not spelled out by the board.
“A lot of us had seen this (friction) for a while, but it’s made me so happy to have the people stand up for me,” said McGarr, who admitted to a rocky relationship with the district.
“One of the reasons I think people are unhappy with me is not because of the things I do wrong,” she said, “but because of the things I do right.”
The 95-student, K-8 school last week received a scathing report from the state’s Fiscal Crisis Management Team.
Among other things, it was faulted for having attendance records that did not match those filed with the state Board of Education. That jeopardized the district’s funding and forced the county Office of Education to place tighter controls on the district’s budget.
“We have to take things seriously,” board president Stormy Trahern told the standing-room-only crowd, most of whom were parents or students attending the charter school.
“This is not about whether (we) like the charter school or not,” she said. “It’s been a difficult relationship for many years, and we have to make a bold move.”
The school also educates dozens in a K-12, home-school program.
In voting unanimously to reassign McGarr and take over daily operations, the board:
— agreed to serve as the governing body for the charter school;
— gave Superintendent Merrill Grant responsibility for “day-to-day operational aspects of the site either by his own involvement or by designee”;
— ordered the charter school staff to meet with the superintendent on a monthly basis;
— agreed to create a new charter council to make program recommendations and offer input to the board.
The decision came after the board heard dozens of speakers who supported the school and retention of McGarr. Several speakers threatened to pull their students out of the school or recall board members if the charter agreement changed.
“If Tessa isn’t our director, we’ll vote with our feet and leave this district,” parent and charter council member Greg Fultz said.
“The allegations have been blown out of proportion and spun by a journeyman politician,” Fultz said, referring to county Superintendent of Schools Terry McAteer, a critic of the district’s accounting procedures.
In an August letter, McAteer likened the financial rift between the charter council and the Ready Springs administration “to a nagging cough that is never treated and turns into pneumonia that may lead to the death of an organism if not treated.”
Some parents rallied behind McGarr and the school.
“The work that my son does far exceeds what he would do at Ready Springs School,” said parent Thomas Johnson.
“To make a decision based on this information is a little premature,” said parent Calvin Clark.
McAteer’s fiscal director, Karen Suenram, said the discrepancies found in Vantage Point’s attendance accounting are “very serious. Our fear is that the state won’t recognize their (attendance) because of these discrepancies.”
Members of the board vowed to keep Vantage Point’s educational model untouched.
Without the changes, Grant said, the charter school could close.
“We feel this provides an opportunity for the charter school to stay open,” he said. “There is a need for alternative education in Penn Valley, but we have to ensure those taxpayers’ dollars are used correctly.”
Some parents shouted at board members then left the meeting.
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