By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
Last month, the Madison County School Board reviewed the New Millennium Charter School’s first year of operation and voted 3/2 to rescind the charter for fiscal mismanagement. New Millennium, serving Kindergarten through second grade students, was designed mainly for children who were not thriving in traditional classroom settings with large class sizes; many of the children who attended came from the Madison County Central School, the largest school in the district. However, at the end of the first year, the school had racked up nearly $50,000 in debt. School board member Kenny Hall, who had originally supported the school, questioned its fiscal management policy, saying that New Millennium Director Dr. Jerri Haynes had been asked numerous times to come before the board and explain the situation, but had not done so. School board member VeEtta Hagan spoke in favor of giving the school a second chance and trying a few cost-cutting measures, as did Diamond Jones, a representative of New Millennium, but the absence of Haynes at that critical juncture, as well as on previous occasions, seemed to weigh heavily against that option with several board members. The vote to rescind the charter did, however, leave an opening – New Millennium could request an administrative hearing, as long as it made the request within 14 days of the official termination notice. At the July 15 school board meeting, the board had received the request and school district attorney Tommy Reeves outlined the options for setting up a hearing. The first was to send the issue to the Florida Department of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) in Tallahassee, and let that agency assign an administrative law judge to hear both sides, determine the facts and issue orders and recommendations. The second was to have the board itself sit as judge, hear both sides and determine the facts. Reeves recommended letting DOAH handle the case, because “they don’t have a dog in this fight,” and the school’s petition had raised issues about several things it said the district did not do appropriately. Regardless of which option the board choose, individual members were not to try to investigate or determine facts on their own, nor were they to give opinions about it. They should also beware of hearsay, which would not be allowed in the process, and “as public officials in a small town, all you get is hearsay, 24 hours a day,” he told them. Even if the case was sent to DOAH, failing to follow the above guidelines in the interim would probably mean they would have to recuse themselves from voting when DOAH sent back its orders and recommendations. Either case would be a matter of stepping back and allowing the process to work. Hall made the motion to use DOAH, with Hagan seconding. The vote to send the case to DOAH was unanimous.