Brookhaven, GA, April 8, 2016 – by Trey Benton – On Wednesday, the Brookhaven Innovation Academy (BIA) announced they will be opening their doors for the first day of school in August, in the City of Norcross – not the City of Brookhaven. Shortly after the announcement was made, BIA posted on Facebook that Brookhaven folks interested in the school should contact their City Council representatives to assist in helping the BIA find a permanent home in the city for which the school’s name bears.
Going further, the BIA pointed the finger at the City for “no support” in their “extensive real estate search” to find a Brookhaven home.
A number of commenters on The Post, as well as the BIA’s Facebook page have asked, “Is it really the role of the City of Brookhaven to find a home for an independent, state funded charter school with a statewide attendance zone?” And, “has the City really fallen down on supporting the startup school?”
Operationally, the BIA has always been explained as an independent organization with no ties to the City. When The Post asked questions over the entire timeline of the creation of the school, we were consistently given that answer. Even the State Charter Schools Commission (SCSC) slapped the City’s hand and made them reduce the number of Councilmembers on the original BIA Board, ” too many voting Councilmembers,” they said.
The “not operationally involved” answer was specifically underscored at times when The Post scrutinized the City for spending taxpayer money to champion the charter school effort. We received the same answer when we asked about potential conflicts of interest and the appearance of questionable ethics because of the City’s elected officials appearing to be driving the BIA bus.
The path for the BIA has not been exactly what some would call “smooth”, although no one ever said it would be. Councilman Bates Mattison, who championed the effort and later secured a paid position as the school’s Executive Director, told The Post some months ago, the impetus behind the BIA was turmoil with the DeKalb County School System being put on probation, very nearly losing accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. “The lack of confidence that any short-term improvements in the DeKalb School System could be sustained long-term, played a role in Brookhaven’s decision to investigate other alternatives,” he said.
In the beginning of Brookhaven’s charge to seek “education initiatives” back in 2013, Council allocated $30,000 in the Budget to hire Edevate, a consultant, “to provide guidance and expertise to study education possibilities”. That initial effort failed, but the BIA was encouraged to reapply in 2015.
In late 2014, Council members made a decision to give Edevate another $30,000 of Brookhaven taxpayer funds to continue pushing the BIA through the SCSC for approval, which was successful. In September of last year, the BIA got its Charter.
The City has in fact been neck deep in supporting the BIA, even at times when the City tried to make it appear they were doing so only at arms length. The Post has been continually told that the limits of the relationship between the City and the BIA stop at funding the initiative to create the school, and do not extend to running it, and other than a few cancelled checks to pay consultants and lawyers and an Executive Director that doubles as a City Councilman, they are not connected.
In a questionable and highly publicized action, the City did in fact try purchase the former Skyland Elementary School to house the BIA via a $3.3 million Development Authority deal, a deal that was eventually killed because of conflicts of interest concerns that revolved around Council involvement and their relationship with the BIA.
In a statement provided to The Post on Thursday, the City confirmed the BIA and the City are not one in the same. The City also says, they haven’t been asked recently to help the BIA find a Brookhaven home. The City wrote, “The BIA is a separate entity from the city. It is a state chartered school with a statewide enrollment. With no responsibility or authority to act on its behalf, Council can only act upon specific requests, and as of now no specific requests have been made of the current administration.”
So, it has come to pass that on opening day the BIA will not be in the City of Brookhaven, apparently much to the BIA’s chagrin. Whether embarrassed or irked because maps to the BIA won’t lead you to a Brookhaven doorstep, the statement the City of Brookhaven (and the City taxpayers) have not been supportive, isn’t entirely factual when looking at the bigger picture.
For more information on the BIA, go here.