Attorneys say report low rating school was based on hearsay, assumptions with no facts; Excellence is district #2 Middle School
On orders from a federal court, the Monroe City School Board took a second look at its decision to close its charter school, but the matter may be decided in a courtroom.
Tuesday, the school board listened to attorneys for Excellence Academy Charter School as they challenged a report that recommended closing the school. The school board, without asking questions or commenting, accepted the report on face value and voted 5-2 to close the school on April 11.
Two board members: Bill Willson and Vickie Dayton were absent. Another, Jennifer Haneline left before the hearing ended.
In the meantime, Judge Benjamin Jones of the 4th District Court, signed an order last week ordering the school board to allow the school to continue operation or come to court and show why it should not be opened.
Tuesday, Attorneys Anthony Bruscato, Jim Roundtree and Eddie Clark, presented evidence to the board that Excellence Academy met all of the legal requirements to complete its five-year contract.
The attorneys said a report given to the board by TenSquare, LLC out of New Orleans was flawed and had little if any documentation to support its claims.
Kathleen Padian, a TenSquare partner, participated in Tuesday’s hearings by phone. She said she came to Excellence in February and toured every class at the school, stayed for three hours which included an hour long interview with the principal.
Padian told the board that the data she needed for her report should have been available on the school’s website, but was not and information she received from the school’s executive director concerning student performance, his role at the school and other information was not included in her report to the board because it was inconsequential.
However, attorneys for Excellence presented evidence and witnesses who told the board that documents Padian needed for her review were prepared but she refused to look at them and refused an offer to meet the school’s director who was on campus.
In her report, Padian said she visited “approximately six classes”
Padian’s report claimed that Roosevelt Wright, Jr. was the owner of the Excellence Academy facility which poses a potential conflict of interest. However, she provided no documentation for the ownership claim, prompting attorneys to ask her for the documentation to support all of her claims which, they said, are equally undocumented and untrue.
Padian said her contract is with Superintendent Brent Vidrine and she would only provide documents if he requests them. Ultimately she agreed to provide all documents she used to form her conclusions by Friday. None of those documents were included with or referenced in her report.
Documents presented at the hearing show the school facility is leased from the New Tabernacle Baptist Church. Wright is the pastor of the 122 year old church. In the school’s written response to Padian’s claims, the school said Wright is not the owner of the church, does not sign its checks or serve on its board.
Tuesday, Padian told the board that Wright is a member of the Excellence Academy Board of Directors. Records indicate while Wright attends all Excellence Board meetings he is not a member of its board of directors.
Rosie Harper, CPA, told the board that she conducted audits of the school for three years and found no significant findings. She said the school’s finances complied with state law. Any conflicts of interest or violations of state laws would have been noted in the audit.
Attorneys also presented state school scores that revealed that of the district’s four middle schools that Excellence has consistently been the number two school behind Lee Jr. High and meets the state’s academic requirement for charter school 5th year extension.
Regular Meetings Questioned
Padian’s report indicated that there was no evidence on the school’s website that its board met regularly or posted its meetings according to law. Excellence Attorneys produced original copies of minutes and agendas of meetings showing that Excellence’s Board of Directors has conducted regular monthly meetings since 2013 and posted them 24 hours before meetings.
She also said in her report that the school’s board of directors hadn’t complied with governance training laws or filed ethics reports.
Eddie Clark told the board that minutes may not have been posted on its website because laws requiring web posting did not exist when the school began in 2013, but the meetings were held.
“We’ll take that” said Clark “But 99 out of 100 is still an A.”
Bruscato presented the board with copies of governance training certificates and ethics filings for the school’s board members, disputing Padian’s claims.
Padian said Excellence Director Roosevelt Wright, Jr. serves as a volunteer teacher but has never had Compass evaluation required by the state.
However, Clark said Wright volunteered as a substitute under the credentials of the actual teacher of record. Substitute teachers whether one day or an entire year are not required to have a Compass Evaluation.
Clark also took aim at Padian’s claim the school’s business manager does not have a degree in business. Clark said statutes requiring business managers at Charter Schools do not apply to school’s like Excellence because the school is not independent and operates under the Monroe City Schools. “Devonna Howard is the Business Manager for the Monroe City Schools.”
Clark said nearly every city school has a bookkeeper without a degree in business. He said Excellence Academy is a Monroe City School whose bookkeeper reports to Howard.
Board to Review
Board President Rodney McFarland said the board will review reams of documents presented by Excellence Academy and make a decision next week.
Since the court has ordered the school board to give Excellence its final year, the school board will be headed back to court if it votes to close the school again.
It will need to show the court that Excellence has failed to meet the three tests of the laws and prove that: 1) It does not have at least “D” school score or that; 2) It has had bad audits or; 3) It has had poor leadership by its board by failing to meet regularly, have governance training or file ethics reports.
The law says the 5th years of charter schools shall be granted unless schools fail the three-point test. Even if charters have not met the standards completely, but are only approaching them, charters must be allowed to complete their contracts. However, boards have no obligation to renew their contracts after the initial five years.
Bruscato told board members that it based its decision to close Excellence on the assumption that the TenSquare, LLC report was accurate. However, Bruscato said the report is riddled with too many factual errors and assumptions to use it as the basis of closing a school.