Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Cirrus Academy works toward compliance after notice of violations from State Charter Schools Commission

Woody Marshall | The Telegraph
Cirrus Academy in July 2016.

A letter sent Wednesday by Cirrus Academy’s governing board to the State Charter Schools Commission indicates the school is still working to get into compliance nearly a month after it was put on notice for violations of its charter contract.

The State Charter Schools Commission wrote the Cirrus board chairperson a letter on Aug. 16 stating the commission is “concerned” about several findings of noncompliance at the school. The letter gave the Cirrus board until Sept. 15 to respond, confirming the school’s “intent to comply with its Charter Contract, Governing Board Bylaws, and applicable rules and laws.”

In summary, violations and findings of noncompliance mentioned in the August letter included:

  • The board has been conducting business with only four members in violation of new bylaws it adopted a few months ago requiring a minimum of five board members.
  • The board has not lawfully adopted an annual operating budget because it did not hold legally required public hearings before approving the budget in June.
  • The board had not adopted the academic calendar for the year.
  • The school’s website does not contain the school’s current charter, current governing board members, valid contact information for the board or recent meeting minutes.

The school’s staff and administration gathered in a classroom at the school Tuesday evening for the governing board’s virtual meeting during which board chairperson Shirlynn Kelly presented an overview of the letter she wrote in response to the State Charter School Commission.

Kelly described a plan to recruit new board members in September and hold a board retreat in October. The academic calendar was approved in late August.

The budget issue, which stems from the fact that Cirrus has two chief financial officers, has yet to be resolved.

The board apparently realized at a board at a meeting in late August that the two CFOs have different versions of the school’s operating budget. One reflects a surplus and the other reflects a deficit.

CFO Arleen Samuels, who previously worked for the Macon Water Authority, was hired by Superintendent Gail Fowler earlier this year. CFO Terence Washington, who previously worked for the State Charter School Commission as its finance and operational accountability manager, was contracted by the governing board. Washington’s budget reflects a deficit while Samuels’ budget reflects a surplus.

“They will be working together to bring that budget to cohesiveness so that we can have public budget hearings as soon as possible,” Kelly said of the CFOs on Tuesday.

Up until recently, the school had two websites. One has existed since the school opened. The other was recently created by the board’s contracted executive director Gregg Stevens, who previously worked as deputy director and general counsel for the State Charter Schools Commission.

The website Stevens created was no longer accessible online Wednesday. Documents posted there were uploaded to the school’s original website.

In other business Tuesday, the board voted 4-0 to approve updated policies regarding conflicts of interest, board member background checks, a code of ethics and a new public comment procedure requiring speakers to sign up a day before the meeting at which they plan to speak.

The board also voted to approve the school’s fiscal year 2022 audit, which included an unmodified opinion but contained a finding of material weakness in internal controls and financial reporting.

An action item regarding the school’s organizational chart was tabled. Kelly said Superintendent Fowler requested to amend the chart so that the CFO and all other positions report to her and she reports to the board.

“That’s not what the board revised for the org chart to look like,” Kelly said. “The CFO and the executive director works directly with the board. …  I did notice that change that we just need to discuss before we go any further.”

Stevens said Wednesday the board met in private for about an hour and a half before it voted 4-0 to authorize Kelly to negotiate an employment contract with Fowler. Fowler has been getting paid but working without a contract.

To contact Civic Journalism Fellow Laura Corley, call 478-301-5777 or email [email protected].

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