The state Department of Education has put Macon Charter Academy on probation after an inspection and recommendation by Bibb County school officials.
In a Tuesday letter, state education officials notified the school that it has been placed on probation “effective immediately” for its “failure to adhere to the material terms of its charter,” or the performance contract it operates under.
The decision followed a report in The Telegraph from last week’s board meeting in which parents and employees aired blistering complaints about the school’s operations, from academics to school discipline.
If the school doesn’t submit a sound corrective action plan by Oct. 7, “the department and Bibb County school district will move to terminate the school’s charter contract,” the letter said.
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Bibb school Superintendent Curtis Jones expressed concerns about the operations of the county’s newest charter school in two letters sent to the school late last week, prompting the probation.
In a Sept. 24 letter, Jones wrote that “the allegations that have been stated in The Telegraph are of a serious nature and could result in grounds for termination of a charter.”
Jones’ letter notified MCA that Bibb school officials would visit the school the next day, on Friday.
That inspection generated two pages that listed “areas of concern” and a recommendation to the Department of Education that the school be put on probation.
The district outlined both corrective and recommended actions in several categories, including leadership, teaching, fiscal management, human resources, and overall operations (including records management, technology infrastructure, facility maintenance, nutrition, communications, and safety and risk management).
“Corrective actions are those items that we deem critical to a school’s operation and that need to be addressed immediately,” Jones wrote in a Sept. 25 letter. “The recommendations are also serious, but can be addressed later.”
The areas of concern included:
Leadership: “MCA must provide governing board members with mandatory training.”
Teaching: “MCA must provide students with adequate instructional materials.”
Fiscal management: “In compliance with its charter, MCA must immediately hire a chief financial officer (individual or firm) to handle its fiscal affairs.”
Maintenance: “Hire knowledgeable and adequate staff to implement a cleaning plan for the campus.” The letter noted that restroom surfaces were “extremely dirty and stained” and needed to be cleaned and disinfected. It added that the restrooms “had an unpleasant odor,” and no soap was available.
Communications: “MCA must implement a process for communicating important news and information with parents.”
Safety and risk management: “No open flames should be allowed in any school space, except the school kitchen.”
The school “must have implemented all or a substantial portion of the approved corrective action plan” no later than Nov. 6.
“We hope MCA will be able to address all the major issues in the time frame given,” Jones told The Telegraph.
MCA will be eligible to come off probation when it fulfills the terms of the action plan, the letter said.
MORE BIRTHING PAINS
The school has had its share of start-up challenges, which its co-founders, Monya and Charles Rutland, have described simply as “birthing pains.”
The school opened Aug. 3, with three weeks of classes at the Macon Coliseum before students, teachers and administrators moved to a new building on Madison Street. In the first few weeks, student enrollment figures did not meet projections, and then parents and employees complained bitterly about problems at the school during a board meeting Sept. 22.
Now the school is on probation.
The Rutlands, largely in charge of the school’s management, founded Passport Education Partners, a nonprofit corporation, designed to support the “school leadership team, day-to-day operations, as well as its mission and vision as outlined in the charter petition,” according to a July 1 proposal.
The services that the Rutlands proposed to offer -- business operations, board support, public affairs, facility management -- coincide with several of the problem areas that school officials highlighted.
The corporation has already been paid a little more than $12,000 from May to June of this year, according to MCA financial records.
A new proposal, which the school’s board of directors has yet to approve, seeks 5 percent of the gross funding provided to the school based on Georgia’s Quality Basic Education Act funding formula.
With a reported 702 students, at about $6,000 per student, the amount paid to the Rutlands would come to about $210,000 per year -- the highest salary compared to any other employee at MCA, including the principal, according to budget records.
Since the start of the school year, MCA employees have said that a handful of workers have either resigned or been fired.
Claudia Weathers, the school’s International Baccalaureate program coordinator, confirmed that she is among those who have quit.
Other employees have said salaries have been cut.
“My salary was cut in half, $10,000. That’s not right,” Sharon Dumas, MCA’s lead office clerk, said at last week’s board meeting. “I have a signed contract. I want what’s right for the staff, and I want my salary right.”
Gwen Westbrooks, president of the Macon-Bibb NAACP branch, also told the board she wondered if labor laws are being broken.
“I think that is something y’all need to actually look into,” she said.
Westbrooks added, “I’m asking for the salaries that have been cut, they need to be reinstated. A contract is binding. You really don’t want to get into a legal issue with a binding contract.”
Rita Crawford, one MCA parent, said she has “mixed feelings” about the school’s predicament. She said she places some blame on a lack of support from the Bibb County school system.
“This is what Bibb County has produced, and we’re trying to work with them as far as the discipline,” she said.
Rokeisha Vaughn, another parent who has been adamant about keeping her child enrolled at the school, said she’s in the process of putting in applications elsewhere.
“I plan on keeping her there to see what will happen because I still stand by the vision,” she said, adding, though, that her “last option” would be to enroll her child in another Bibb public school.
To contact writer David Schick, call 744-4382 and find him on Twitter@davidcschick.