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LOA, BOE pause lawsuit, try mediation

October 08, 2021 - 00:00
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Lake Oconee Academy and the Greene County Board of Education are working to find a mediator to resolve differences over funding and enrollment at the charter school.

Both parties jointly filed a motion on Friday, Oct. 1, asking the court to stay LOA’s lawsuit against the BOE until Oct. 31.

The action came one day after Fulton County Superior Court Judge Emily Richardson dismissed Lake Oconee Academy’s mandamus request, which would have required the Greene County Board of Education to immediately pay LOA money that the charter school believes it is owed.

The current LOA charter, which expires in 2024, caps at 1,051, the number of students LOA can enroll without further state permission. The two sides disagree on how quickly the enrollment could increase over the term of the charter.

LOA sued the BOE more than a year ago claiming, among other things, that the school board is not passing through to LOA all of the state per-pupil money for all of the students LOA has enrolled. The suit was filed last year after the BOE agreed to only fund 1,006 of the 1,023 students that LOA enrolled. This school year, LOA has enrolled 1,051 but the county has only agreed to pass through money for 1,013.

LOA CEO Otho Tucker says each year, the enrollment must increase by one class size as students matriculate to the next grade.

BOE Chairman Mike Lynch told the Lake Oconee News last month that he is a big supporter of LOA.

“I was the one who led the charge several years ago to pay them for more students than was in the agreement,” he said. “The only reason we stopped was this formula started resetting and it gave them a lot more money than anybody thought of. They didn’t need for us to pay them for more students. They already had the money to do that.”

Both sides have claimed they have been interested in negotiating and blamed the other side for preventing that.

“The real answer,” Lynch told the Lake Oconee News after the court ruling last week, “is that we get our act together and get a solution. This is not something that should be settled in the courts.”

At the LOA Board of Governors meeting Monday night, Board attorney Dick Schmidt announced the mediation and the judge’s dismissal of LOA’s request for a mandamus ruling. The ruling does not pass judgement on the merits of LOA’s case, but Schmidt was optimistic.

He read from the judge’s decision that “(W)hile the Court finds that LOA has a right to the relief sought in its mandamus claim, mandamus is an extraordinary remedy…”

“So basically,” Schmidt added, “they (the court) said, ‘we think you’ve got a good claim, but you can’t get there in this way. You’re just going to have to go the long, slow way.”

The year-long behind the scenes animosity and distrust exploded into the public when Tucker and members of the LOA Board of Governors aired their grievances against the BOE at a parent’s meeting on Aug. 28. Angry parents and concerned citizens on both sides of the issue showed up at meetings held by the school district and LOA. Members of a conservative Republican group chastised both boards and urged them to get together with a mediator to resolve the problem for the good of the community.

It appears they got the message.

If mediation fails, the lawyers for both sides will submit a schedule for resuming the litigation. That means it could be a year or more before it is resolved.