Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Charter School Bedfellows

Is it possible that County Commissioners Wyatt Bunker and Sidney Chism are much closer than they lead their constituencies to believe?  We know that signing on with some ed reform policies can make for strange political bedfellows, but is it possible that Commissioners Chism and Bunker want to form a charter school together?  Could it possibly be?

Gratefully, I report that the radio broadcast was clearer than usual, though I would ask the school board to remember to use their microphones.  In any event, while the School Board considered whether to accept the recommendations of staff to deny the four remaining charter school applications, Commissioner David Reaves asked an unusual question.  Most of the time the actual charter school applications are kept pretty close to the vest - we, the public, don't get to see most of the information on the applications, just the staff's summary of some of the weaknesses.  This time, Commissioner Reaves asked whether one of the charter applicant's Board of Directors could be publicly disclosed.

The charter school applicant is something called the George Washington Carver Consortium (apparently still available to be registered as a business name with the Tennessee Department of State), applying to open a school called "STEAM Academy Charter School".  The school would serve K-5, and lists Thessalonia Brown as a contact person.  After the question, there was some delay during which another question was answered as staff searched for the list of board members for the Consortium.

On the list of board members were several sitting County Commissioners - I caught Sidney Chism, Wyatt Bunker, and Melvin Burgess, along with a Ricky Wilkins and several others whose names I didn't recognize or now remember.  In response to School Board Commissioner Reaves, Superintendent Dopson said that he also thought this list was strange.  Supt. Dopson explained that he asked County Commissioner (and schools auditor) Burgess about his inclusion on the list.  County Commissioner Burgess denied knowledge of being on the Consortium board, basically saying that he had not been asked.

Bizzare, no?

So what's going on here?  Well, there's an outside chance that Commissioner Burgess is misremembering things, and these guys - including Commissioners Bunker and Chism - have, by mutual consent, climbed into a charter school bed together.  It seems much more likely to me that these guys have been roofied.  That is the only way I can conceive of these guys ending up in said charter school bed.

Maybe this is an honest mistake by Thessalonia Brown.  Maybe she thought the form was asking for her dream team charter school board, or she somehow misunderstood how to fill in the blanks.

Just possibly, despite all of the web of conflicts of interest, members of the elected body that funds our public schools have formed an entity that would also benefit from that funding.  (My money is on "it's not this one")  (SPOILER ALERT:  womp, womp.  it's this one, kind of.)

Or maybe, though I find two Thessalonia Browns in Memphis on Facebook, there is no Thessalonia Brown.  In this scenario, she's a shadow, using a nomme de guerre to enter a fake charter school application.  But for what purpose?  To get a fake charter school approved?  To bring these County Commissioners to the school funding table?  Simply to find a way to get these notoriously oppositional Commissioners on the same list against their will?

Obviously, I prefer some version of the latter scenario.  There is so little that is funny in what is happening at School Board meetings, that almost any levity is appreciated at this point.

On a serious note, if this is a prank, then it is one that abuses the process.  The district's charter school office had to treat this like a real application, expending resources on the application and completing the rubric that evaluated the application.  Staff had to write a report on it, and present it to the School Board.  The School Board had to vote on it.  If this is a prank, this prankster should be billed for the needless expenditure of scant resources.

Someone in the press will run this down for us, right?

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