At its meeting downtown Monday, the Atlanta Board of Education unanimously (9-0) approved Atlanta Classical Academy’s charter, paving the way for the kindergarten through eighth-grade school to open as early as August 2014.
According to the Talk Up APS blog, which has a transcript of Monday’s meeting, Superintendent Erroll Davis said he is against charter schools because they currently do not have to pay into the district’s pension fund.
“I cannot in good conscience recommend any charter now or in the future due to the unfunded pension fund,” he said. “In a scarce resource environment I cannot advocate increasing the burden on traditional school to create non-traditional environments. By 2019 the pension fund could grow to 900,000/$1 million. Nothing in my remarks should be seen as anti-charter. My view is that this problem must be solved. We need to resolve that problem.”
District 1 board member Brenda Muhammad told Davis she thought the charter should be approved.
“Mr. Superintendent, your issue is regarding the pension and I think you know where I am,” she said. “I personally don’t think we should hold these charters responsible for paying a pension when they have to pay pensions for the teachers that are working at the charter school. This reminds me of when we started neighborhood charter with Parkside and both are successful.”
Allen Mueller, the district’s executive director of innovation, said the school would be located at Wieuca Baptist Church in Buckhead.
Seat 9 at-large board member Emmett Johnson said he would vote for the school’s charter but did not want the pension issue delayed much longer.
“This Atlanta Classical seems to meet the requirements of being a good charter school,” he said. “With this pension, other board members have kicked the bucket up the road. If we don’t address this sooner or later it will be before the next board. I don’t have an answer as to how you deal with that but our interest is first towards all of the students of APS. It’s a tough situation. It is really a bad situation to be in and I just don’t have the answers. We cannot continue on this path with the unfunded pension.”
In an emailed response to questions about the meeting and the school, Atlanta Classical board Chairman Matthew Kirby said the school is pleased with the school board’s decision.
“We are ecstatic!” he said. “We look forward to moving ahead with our plans ... to serve Atlanta families and kids. We are grateful for those who have supported ACA, and we are committed to creating a world-class classical school.”
Kirby also said the school plans to increase to kindergarten through 12th grade. He declined to comment on the school site, citing ongoing negotiations with the church. But he did say, “We think the location will be very attractive to parents and children.”
Now the school will move on to the next steps in its progression toward opening.
“We are focused on our hiring process, enrollment plans and continued community outreach,” Kirby said. “We will go before the State Department of Education for our ‘final-final’ approval in several weeks. Though we will be an APS school, this is simply part of the process.”