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The Kennesaw Charter Science and Math Academy is ditching its contract with the Cobb County School District and is seeking a special charter contract with the state instead.

A Kennesaw charter school seeking a new contract in order to stay open owes almost $7 million more than it has in assets, has failed virtually every goal mandated by its current charter, and isn’t on the state’s radar as far as a new contract is concerned.

The Kennesaw Charter Science and Math Academy did not seek to renew its current five-year charter with the Cobb County School District, which expires on June 30, 2020, administrators confirmed to the MDJ on Dec. 6.

Perhaps that is because at the end of October, the school received its 2019 report card from the school district, a damning document supplied to the MDJ under the Open Records Act.

“Academically, KCSMA has not met either of its two academic goals, or any of its three academic measures, at any point over its charter term,” states John Floresta, CCSD chief strategy and accountability officer, in the Oct. 31 report. “School year 2018-2019 continues that trend and continues to be a significant concern. The District does not believe KCSMA is economically sustainable.”

Floresta states the school owes $6.8 million more than it has in assets, including a “balloon” payment of $3.2 million on deferred payments owed from 2018 and 2019 due to operating cash shortfalls, and that the school continues to lose funding as student enrollment progressively declines.

He said the school hasn’t met its three organizational goals in the past school year, and the district is particularly concerned the school fails to properly consult parents and teachers.

“Specifically, failure to collect formal feedback from parents and teachers, particularly in light of informal parent and teacher feedback received by the CCSD and the KCSMA boards, appears to be an attempt to avoid feedback which could be perceived as negative or not favorable for KCSMA,” Floresta states in the report.

There are just over 300 students at the charter school, where enrollment has more than halved in recent years.

Jacqueline Oduselu, one of only two people on the school’s board of directors, maintains the school is not closing at the end of the current school year, and that she and others are working to find a different charter authorizer.

“The stakeholders of KCSMA are exploring other options to ensure a school continues and thrives in the current facility, preferably beginning in the 2020-2021 school year,” Oduselu told the MDJ this week. “These options include authorization through the State Charter Schools Commission, either through replication and/or expansion of an existing school, or as a new SCSC school.”

Oduselu said she expects to make a final decision on the best authorization option by the end of January.

But that leaves little time for a process which typically takes many months, according to the State Charter Schools Commission timelines.

Lauren Holcomb, executive director of the SCSC, said several other local charter schools had already expressed their interest in transferring to state authorization for the 2020-2021 school year, and they were given a Nov. 15 deadline to submit their applications.

“We aim to make decisions on any local transfer petitions at the February 2020 SCSC board meeting,” Holcomb said. “I can’t speak directly to Kennesaw Charter Math and Science Academy as we have not reviewed any information related to this school.”

Holcomb said the commission consults with the Georgia Department of Education and local school boards about whether a school is considered in “good standing,” when deciding whether to give a school state charter status.

“We evaluate the school’s performance track record in the areas of academics, finances and operations. Specifically, the school must demonstrate that it’s offering students a better educational opportunity than the traditional district schools that students would otherwise attend; that it is financially compliant and viable; and that it has the capacity to operate as its own school system,” she said. “The SCSC evaluates the school’s academic performance on measures that account for student proficiency, student growth, and unique student characteristics.”

Since the commission’s establishment in 2013, it has approved four local charter school transfers, Holcomb said.

Oduselu said the school is currently in a forbearance agreement with its debt holder, which allows the school to operate “without a struggling budget.”

“We are indeed current on all our bills and have not been struggling to handle our financial obligations to maintain an efficiently run school,” she said.

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