MONTGOMERY — On Tuesday, the Alabama Public Charter School Commission gave Montgomery-based LEAD Academy a two-year renewal to continue operating as a charter school authorized by the state.
LEAD officials requested the commission give them a longer renewal of five years. However, commissioners approved a shorter two-year renewal after meeting in executive session.
“To be able to go into executive session to discuss what you’re about to vote on to me is like the opposite of what the Open Meetings Act says, but evidently, that’s allowed under the Administrative Procedures Act, so I was a little surprised by the process. We’d actually been told that the vote would not be taken until the end of the month, so we were also surprised that they were voting today. They went into executive session for like an hour,” Charlotte Meadows, a former Republican state representative and Lead Academy Board Chair, told 1819 News on Tuesday.
LEAD Academy is currently under a payment plan to pay back the nearly $2 million the school owed the federal government after its child nutrition provider, Brian Pleasant, overbilled student meals from August 2020 to January 2022 to the charter school. LEAD Education Foundation sued Pleasant in Montgomery County Circuit Court last year to recover some of the funds. Judge Johnny Hardwick ruled against Pleasant in January 2023 with a nearly $2 million judgment.
Meadows said LEAD hasn’t received any money from the judgment yet.
“I’ve not given up on it at this time,” Meadows said.
Meadows said the decision by commissioners was likely based on LEAD Academy’s past problems with their child nutrition provider.
“The payment plan extends out like four more years if I remember right. We’ve made about 25% of the payment, actually a little more. We’ve got a payment plan that extends for us to make payments through at least the next three fiscal years and then make a final balloon payment in the fourth year. The CNP program problem…not extending it through the end of the payment plan is somewhat contradictory to me,” Meadows said. “We expect to continue to improve every year. The impact of the two-year versus the five-year is going to come on in our financial situation in terms of money to continue to grow the school facility. When you’re looking at borrowing money from a lender, you kind of need a 5-year plan or even a 10-year plan, which is what universally across the country charter schools are usually renewed at 5, 7, or 10 years, not 3 (years). The impact is how will our financing to grow the school be affected by this decision, and I don’t think they even thought about that part of the process.”
Legacy Prep, a charter school in Birmingham, received a four-year extension from the commission on Tuesday, according to Meadows.
“I did hear that they got a four-year approval, which is interesting because their student achievement numbers were not as high as ours were at the ’22 ACAP scores, so I’m not sure what they were looking at to make that determination,” Meadows stated. “I do feel like the problem with the child nutrition program provider…we won every lawsuit in a Democrat judge’s courtroom. I don’t really know why they feel like that’s just something they should continue to hold against us.”
He continued, “When we closed our application process in the spring and had accepted all of our students for this school year, we had 600 students on the waiting list. That number has dropped now because we keep in touch with them, and if they’re no longer looking for a spot, they drop off the waiting list. They get into a magnet, or they leave the county or whatever. We still have 450 kids that are hoping to get in this school year. Of course, as a charter school, we will accept them at any point in the year that we have an opening, so I think the demand speaks for itself in terms of what the demand is there for a school of choice in Montgomery County.”
Commissioners and a Legacy Prep official didn’t return requests for comment on Tuesday.
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