Contributed By The 411 News
School board member calls out Board of Directors and GEO Academies failures to perform
Divisions between board members over school policies at 21st Century Charter School at Gary and Gary Middle College have led to Ball State University’s Office of Charter Schools placing the schools on probation.
The largest and one of the oldest charter schools in Gary received the notice of probation in a letter dated June 23.
According to Lisa Edwards, a 4-year school board member, discord between board members over school policies required intervention by Ball State University, the school’s authorizer.
The June 23rd letter addressed to Arlene Colvin, school board president, cited actions by the board that were not in compliance with the laws and conditions set forth by Ball State’s OCS. “Due to recent events, OCS has serious concerns regarding the Schools and their continued ability to meet these obligations.”
OCS noted the 21st Century board had not responded to OCS’ requests for amended bylaws and articles of incorporations for the K-12 school and adult learning Gary Middle College. OCS also said the board’s policies were in conflict with OCS policies on contracting with education service providers.
Edwards pointed to the board’s relationship with its education service provider, GEO Academies headed by Kevin and Dana Teasley, as at the center of policy differences among board members.
“As board membership expanded in size from 5 to nine members in recent years, more accountability has been demanded of GEO. And now, some of the older board members consider that as hostile and disruptive,” Edwards said.
Edwards said she was invited and approved as a board member because of her work with charter schools.
OCS has asked the board to appoint a legal adviser. “Since I’ve been a board member, Dana Teasley has been our legal adviser,” Edwards said. “Teasley oversees all of our contracts, even GEO’s own contract with 21st Century.”
OCS policy states “… the terms of the service contract must be reached by the organizer and the education service provider through arms-length negotiations in which the organizer must be represented by legal counsel. The legal counsel may not also represent the education service provider.”
The board appointed an adhoc committee to bring back recommendations for legal counsel to comply with the Ball State request, Edwards said. Instead of making a decision on the recommendations, the board formed a new committee and made a selection of legal adviser.
Edwards then filed a complaint with Ball State. “OCS told the board that was not permitted. And they asked the board to submit the minutes of the meeting and the agenda in which a new adhoc committee was created,” Edwards said.
The board hasn’t complied with that demand and is still without legal counsel.
Edwards said the board has become a rubber stamp for their education service provider. “The Teasleys wrote the charter application for 21st Century and the board has come to rely on them for everything since.”
Board president Colvin asked Edwards and 2 other board members to sign letters of resignation; they refused. Although the Teasleys have said the three were no longer on the board, OCS still considers them as board members. 21st Century’s bylaws give GEO the authority to appoint, remove, and fill vacancies on the school’s Board of Directors.
“Ball State says that can’t be in the bylaws,” Edwards says.
She said the board has a big dilemma. “How can a body of authority be charged with governing the management company and take directives from the management company? That’s like telling my boss he has to do what I say.”
Edwards said no board meeting has been held to remove them.
Edwards and some parents are dissatisfied with GEO’s performance at 21st Century.
GEO purchased the old Ivy Tech Campus in Glen Park to be used by 21st Century high school students.
A letter from parents at 21st Century stated that the original lease/rental contract for the year was $270,000. September 2019 was the school’s first use of the campus. By March 31, GEO had collected $300,000 in rents for the building and still had until June 30 to collect more.
Parents and board members have complained the building doesn’t have lockers for the students and its library is without books.
“The high school doesn’t have a curriculum. High school students don’t have textbooks. They can get a textbook by request only,” Edwards said. Students are given handouts for learning materials.
Edwards is amazed at the recent publicity of the school’s successes. “U.S. News & World Report recognized 21st Century Charter as the Best Charter School in Gary when we don’t have any advanced placement courses. And Ball State is looking at GEO paying students to take college credit courses.”
21st Century held an awards ceremony earlier in July where GEO presented $10,000 to sixty high school students for completing college and career credits.
The letter from parents is multiple pages of concerns and complaints. Dana Teasley said the letter was the sympathies and opinions of a few since it was signed by only five parents.
Ball State’s probation letter concluded, “Failure to meet these obligations may result in a suspension or revocation of the Schools’ Charter.”