Sumter school board chair breaks tie to renew charter school contract

Published 3:01 pm Thursday, July 25, 2019

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By Beth Alston


AMERICUS — The Sumter County Board of Education, in a tie vote broken by its chairman, voted to renew the charter for Furlow Charter School for five years at a called meeting Monday. Board vice chair Rick Barnes was absent but participated by telephone. The motion to approve the charter was made by Meda Krenson and seconded by Sylvia Roland.

Then a discussion started. Board member Jim Reid expressed frustration that he had not had time to read the entire contract and said he felt uncomfortable voting to fund $1.2 million for something he had not read. He also was concerned about the possibility of the charter school suing the school board if they get a state charter. Reid asked three times if they would sue, but being that he never looked into the audience but at board chairman Mike Busman, no one ever answered. People from the audience are not allowed to speak out during board meetings. The third time Reid asked the question, Busman said he couldn’t answer but perhaps Furlow’s board chair, John LeJeune, who was in the audience along with a large contingent from the Charter school, could. LeJeune answered that his board would follow Title XX. “Title XX is the law. We plan to follow it and hope you will, too.” Title XX basically says that every charter school must be treated the same as any other school, whether a district school or a state school.”

Reid asked that Barnes be called so the vote would not end in a tie.

Reid said that LeJeune had “rubbed him the wrong way” recently, in front of many guests, when he insinuated that the school board didn’t fulfill its contract, “ … we paid more over a three-year contract. But I didn’t say anything in front of the guests. Every time you come before the board, you’ve made that inference, and I take issue with that.”

LeJeune offered to provide documentation for all the data he had previously given the board. Reid responded, “If you wanted to use that to negotiate a new deal, that’s OK, but that’s not what you inferred.”

LeJeune reminded the board that he had provided the board members copies of the new contract at the end of April so they had plenty of time to read and review it and ask questions.

Busman said July 24 is the deadline for Furlow Charter School, so he got Barnes on the phone to continue discussion. Barnes was put on speaker phone but it was difficult to understand much of what he said being that the phone was not placed near a microphone at the board table. Reid said, “We’re going to regret giving them the full $1.2 million each year” because the district had born the costs of maintenance, technology, and overhead for the previous three years. He asked Natasha Merritt, the school district’s financial officer, to explain. She handed out materials that the audience had no access to. She did say the percentage of funding cannot be determined without the state Department of Education’s allotment sheets for the upcoming fiscal year. Busman said the state figures are based on how much the school district allots for the charter school, the percentage being around 9 percent.

Barnes said the school board is leasing Furlow a school building for $1 per year, with the system picking up the cost of maintenance issues of more than $2,000. Reid said the district had been charging Furlow a 3 percent administrative fee but the new contract says 5 percent. “If they get QBE funding, plus the local allotment, they should be responsible for maintenance, technology and a pro-rated cost of VOIP (voice over internet protocol),” Reid said.

Board member Alice Green said she’s been opposed to funding the charter school for a long time. “Why are we even voting with all the questions? It should be in black and white first. I’m concerned about them double dipping. We’re not ready to vote on it.”

Chairman Busman reminded the board of Furlow’s July 24 deadline and suggested they vote.

Meda Krenson revised her motion to remove the maintenance and technology parts for the local funding. Sylvia Roland seconded the motion with Barnes, Krenson, and Roland voting for, and Reid, Alice Green, and Edith Green voting no. Busman broke the tie by voting for.

In other business, the board went into a 40-minute closed session to discuss personnel, and came out and voted to approve the following.

Release from contract: Xatavius Hardwick

Resignation: Rose Banks, Edna Bateman

Job offer rescindment: Dorcas Reyes

Transfer: Naomi Compton

Employments: Lakaya Smith, Javonda Britt Robinson, Youlander Sawyer, Monica Brown, Tanya Stewart, Brittany Berryhill, Samantha Huiras, Alvin Tremble, Alia Tullis, Derrick Smith.