UPDATED: Tech High School Shutting Its Doors
Low-enrollment, budget cuts cited.
Facing a 16 percent cut in funding, Tech High School, the charter institution in Reynoldstown that opened its doors in 2004, is closing.
Tech High School's Governing Board announced the APS charter school would not reopen this fall because of student under-enrollment and related financial issues, Atlanta Public Schools said in a statement.
A meeting for Tech High School students, parents and guardians is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. July 10, 2012 at the school, where they can obtain more information about the closure and learn about their next steps, APS said.
The school, which has 200 students in the 9th through 12th grades focused on science, technology, mathematics, engineering and robotics, is located at 1043 Memorial Dr. SE.
The students will either have to attend their home or local school, unless they can attend another charter school or private school.
"As a parent I'm very disappointed and my heart is broken," said Amille Hobbs, whose daughter is a rising junior at the school.
Kenneth F. Antley, Tech High's board chairman, told East Atlanta Patch the school was always left a little short in its annual budget of about $2 million.
The school made up the difference through fundraisers and private grants, he said.
But cutting $360,000 from its budget was "too big of a gap for us to fund," Antley, a prominent attorney with Atlanta law firm Miller & Martin, said.
In a statement about the closures, he said the state's average funding per student is more than $11,000, but that the cuts mean Tech High would have to run on revenue of $7,411 per student, not including capital costs.
The school delayed signing contracts with its teachers in April and May for the upcoming academic year until it received a better idea of what funding would be. But then after Tech High renewed its contracts with the teaching staff, APS notified the board in late May that funding would be cut by a total of $360,000.
"Had we known then, I'm not sure that we wouldn't have decided back then to shut down the school," Antley said.
In a letter sent to school employees obtained by East Atlanta Patch, he said the decision was not an easy one to make.
"The Governing Board struggled with this decision and has tried tirelessly during June to find some additional funding in order to keep the school open through 2012 - 2013 school year," Antley wrote.
"However, the unanticipated reduction in funding announced by APS on May 31 and early part of June has proven to be too much, and we have found no such additional funding.
"The Governing Board and management are so very sorry we have not succeeded in this endeavor. We thank you for your great service and loyalty to the school and for all you have done for Tech High's students. The Governing Board is proud of you and your accomplishments. We will do what we can to help you in this most difficult situation."
An APS spokesman said Friday the entire district — both traditional public and charter schools — has to absorb a 9.5 percent cut because of the drop in property tax revenue.
"Additionally, the district is no longer funding charter schools from the pension fund balance, which amounts to a 6.5 percent reduction," APS spokesman Keith Bromery told Patch.
"The total funding reduction for charter schools is approximately $1,500 per student. The per-pupil impact is from the previous $9,500 to $8,000, with the lion's share resulting from the property tax revenue reduction."
Charter schools are public schools but they operate independently from traditional public schools and can do things their traditional counterparts can't.
The closure of Tech High, which is 95 percent minority-enrolled, comes despite posting some encouraging academic results in a district better known for board squabbling, the near-loss of its accreditation and a cheating scandal ranked as the nation's worst.
The school received the 2011 Gold Award from the Governor's Office of Student Achievement for showing the greatest percentage gain — 13.28 percent — in students that met or exceeded testing standards.
That jump, resulting in 93.62 percent of students meeting or exceeding testing standards, meant Tech High's jump in performance bested 97.99 percent of high schools across the sate, according to GOSA figures.
Still, of the 399 high schools in Georgia, Tech High placed 218th, according to Schooldigger.com.
That's compared with the other APS high schools that serve East Atlanta Patch neighborhoods:
- Grady High: 135th
- Jackson High: 375th
- Crim High: 396th
A fourth high school, McNair, which is part of the DeKalb County School System, is ranked 367th.
Antley said he, school board members and school leadership were continually looking to boost academic achievement.
But the school's budget limited some of the things it could do to close that gap, he said.
"About a third of our students would come in reading at the third, fourth or fifth grade reading level and the same in math, too, so we had a lot of ground to make up," he said.
One idea the school considered was a to create at stem middle school to help incoming students catch up academically.
APS' funding reductions are not designed to squeeze charters financially so that their students leave them for underenrolled traditional district public schools, Bromery said.
Still, the cuts and Tech High's closure comes as APS is facing the ire of parents at various charter schools in several Patch communities.
APS Superintendent Erroll B. Davis Jr. opposes the measure, saying if approved, it risks siphoning students away from Jackson High School in Grant Park, which is getting nearly $40 million in physical and academic improvements.
The APS BOE, which tabled voting on the Drew request last month, is expected to vote on it at its July 9 meeting.
Meanwhile, parents at Wesley International Academy, another charter school in Custer/McDonough/Guice, has been waiting for a response from APS for several weeks regarding its desire to rent the former Cook Elementary School campus.
Cook, in Capitol Gateway, is one of seven schools the district closed this year in part to address underenrollment at some schools, overcrowding at others and falling property tax funding.
APS has said it is studying potential uses for the closed properties, but no decision has been made.
But Wesley parents, have been scratching their heads, saying they have outgrown their current home, and that by renting the Cook campus, APS would get $875,000 in additional revenue per year — money that's going to a private company.
Even more compelling, they say: APS spent $8 million to refurbish Cook not too long ago, only to close it.
It's a point they tried to impress upon BOE members at the June meeting.
Antley said he does not believe that APS was attempting to undermine the charter school by cutting funding.
"I think APS is probably in a very serious financial situation," he said. "And APS is trying, in any way it can, to address its financial situation."