I listened today for 120 minutes as the state charter school commission discussed the request by Woodland Prep in Washington County to open in the fall of 2020, instead of 2019.  While I was hopeful common sense might prevail, in my heart of hearts I knew it would not.  The vote of 5-1 proved me correct.

Of the nine members presently on the board, only six of them joined the meeting.  Of these, the lone no vote came from Allison Haygood, the brand new member of the board from Boaz in Marshall County.  It is significant that she is the only active educator on the board.  She is an elementary school principal.

For the most part, the meeting was an oral version of Muhammad Ali’s famous Rope-A-Dope while in the ring.  Dance this way, dance that way, lean into the ropes, bear hug the other guy and avoid direct hits.

Here are things I learned:

People on the commission are unaware of opposition to this charter school from locals.  (Yet when opponents sent several hundred postcards to commission members last spring and were chastised for doing so, this did not show local opposition?  When 60 people rode a chatter bus from Chatom to the May 9 state school board meeting in Montgomery and were recognized by state board member, Ella Bell, this was not considered opposition?)

Soner Tarim, who owns Unity School Services in Sugarland, TX and has the very lucrative management contract for Woodland Prep, is just a victim of the mean-spirited people of Washington County.  These are people who have prevented him from hiring a good principal because candidates have been bullied.  (Like the lady who lives in California and is unknown by name to anyone in the county.)

Unless numbers about school proficiency come from any where but U. S. News & World Report, they are worthless.  Time after time Tarim referred to this magazine and their rankings of high schools.  He never mentioned numbers from the Alabama State Department of Education that differ drastically from those in the magazine.

The contractor for the school has been hampered by sub-contractors walking off the job because they have been threatened by locals.  (Yet there is no local opposition to this charter.)

How many students are presently enrolled in Woodland Prep?  Ali would have been proud of this response.   “A survey shows we may have 150 students who are interested.”  “We have had private meetings with 20-30 parents who say they will be there when the doors open.”  Finally the truth came out, somewhere between 40 and 50 are now enrolled.

School supporters have said over and over that 900 students leave the county each day to go to private schools.  And where did this number come from?  “They came from the local economic developer, who, unfortunately is now deceased so we don’t question their accuracy.” 

And so it went.  Artful dodging at its best.  Someone even threw in a comment about racism for good measure.

But no one ever touched on the bottom line issue in this whole sordid mess.  WHAT THIS CONTROVSERY IS DOING TO THIS VERY RURAL COMMUNITY.  It is gnawing at the very fabric of what makes rural places both unique and special.  Woodland Prep has become a cancer that will now continue to grow for at least 12 more months.   That is a travesty.  And one that could have been stopped today.