Macon Charter Academy has filed a notice of appeal of Wednesday’s bankruptcy court decision that would allow state and local school boards to pursue termination of its charter.
The appeal was to be filed in Fulton County Superior Court, which is outlined in the school’s charter. MCA also filed a motion for stay pending appeal, essentially asking the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Macon to halt the termination process while the appeal plays out.
“Allowing movants to enforce the June 22, 2016, order, such as initiating proceedings to terminate the charter contract between movants and MCA, would cause irreparable harm and injury to MCA,” the motion read.
On Wednesday, Judge James Smith ruled that the previous stay related to MCA’s Chapter 11 reorganization filing did not apply to the Bibb County or state school boards because they were exercising their regulatory functions over the school.
Also key to school board attorneys was the notion that it’s important for the termination process to begin sooner rather than later. With school starting Aug. 1, having the termination up in the air could result in MCA’s opening that day but with school and district officials preparing for the students to move elsewhere at some point later in the year.
“The timeliness issue is an important one,” Assistant State Superintendent Lou Erste said Wednesday. “There’s a multitude of pressures that would be put on the district.”
Erste also said the process could take anywhere from 40 days to a year, but he said officials typically expect a 60-day timeline.
But because Bibb County school Superintendent Curtis Jones testified that the district had already budgeted for the students to be at MCA in the fall, attorney Joel Callins argued in his motion for a stay that the district wouldn’t be harmed.
“Thus, a stay of order pending appeal will simply preserve the status quo,” he wrote.
Callins had indicated in recent meetings that he intended to appeal any decision that wasn’t in the school’s favor.
The school’s leaders and parents met Friday to discuss recent moves and next steps. Board member Thomas Duval said he felt good about what the current governing board had managed to accomplish.
“I think this board has done its due diligence ... to keep this school open,” he said.
Board member Daisy Ross also commended the school’s faculty, staff and students for fighting through the school’s first year. MCA has been on probation since September and has had three governing boards and three principals, while also coming under scrutiny from district leaders and media outlets.
“In spite of all of that, we have made it through the school year, and we are prayerful we are going to continue until the end of the charter,” Ross said.
The school’s charter runs through 2020.
Ed Grant, chairman of the school’s governing board, described the reorganization process as one that he and Callins hoped would expose any shortages in funding to the school, as well as any services the Bibb County district should have been providing but wasn’t.
“We were also looking to be taken off of the recruitment restrictions,” Grant said.
As part of the state probation, the school wasn’t allowed to recruit new students. Latest enrollment figures had the school at 501 students, with 12 kindergartners expected to come to the school in August. MCA has also received about 235 letters of intent for the 2016-17 school year, but it’s unclear how many of those are current students and how many would be new.
Grant’s daughter, Ayana Grant, was one of few parents who attended and spoke up at the meeting. She said she was glad to see her three children receiving challenging work both during and after the school day, and she said she doubted the school would close.
She also spoke out against a previously suggested plan to close the school for a year, then reopen.
“If you allow them to get you to close now, you’re just giving up,” she said.
Board members went into a lengthy closed session, then voted on items when the session reopened to the public.
The board voted unanimously to get full insurance for the 2016-2017 academic year and hire consultant James Banks to help craft a restructuring plan that would go to the Bibb County school system.
Board member Linda Smyth announced a June 30 meeting to discuss possible additions to and changes in board leadership. A parent asked Ed Grant to step down a recent meeting.
“We respect the concerns of our parents and want to honor their requests for some changes. We have received and will recommend adding several new board members,” Smyth said.
Before the meeting concluded, Monya Rutland, a Macon Charter Academy founder, took a moment to speak to those on hand. She made it clear she believed the charter school would be open in August.
“The school will be open Aug. 1 for this upcoming school year and will also include an extended day program,” Rutland said.
She defended her board members and the job they had done to keep the academy’s doors open.
“This board has been steadfast and very committed to unifying the board, the founders, the leadership team, the faculty and staff, the parents, the students,” Rutland said. “We are a united front and we’re standing ready to do what is needed to come off of probation. ...We’re not taking any shortcuts.”