Charter renewals go before advisory board

Dec. 07, 2013 @ 02:46 PM

Three local charter schools are up for consideration for 2014 renewals.

Starting Monday, the new N.C. Charter School Advisory Board interviews representatives from Carter Community Charter School, Kestrel Heights School and Research Triangle Charter Academy.

PACE Academy in Carrboro also is among the eight schools the board has asked to attend Monday and Tuesday to make presentations about concerns the board might have about issues of noncompliance before members vote on whether to renew the charters.

The board considered 12 schools for 2014 charter renewals of up to 10 years each during its Nov. 25 meeting.

Four schools got 10-year charter renewals and the other eight, including those from Durham, were asked to attend Monday and Tuesday advisory board meetings to answer questions that arose during the board’s review of each school’s compliance history in the areas of finance, governance and academics.

Carter Community will meet with the advisory board Monday at 1:15 p.m. The others will meet with the board Tuesday, with Kestrel Heights up first at 9:05 a.m., Pace next at 9:45 a.m. and Research Triangle at 10:25 a.m.     

All three Durham schools appear to be currently in compliance, but some members of the advisory panel had more questions and sought clarification about financial audits, past non-compliance issues, declining enrollment, relationships with national management firms and financial stability.

At Carter Community, for example, questions arose about a late financial audit and a $102,000 deficit, which school officials said was the result of a one-time capital outlay.

Michael Palmer, chairman of the school’s board of directors, said the audit has been completed and was late because of scheduling issues.

Palmer said that since the school’s charter was last renewed, enrollment has grown and performance improved.

“We think we have a track record that will earn their respect,” Palmer said.

Efforts to reach officials from the other three charter schools were not successful.

Advisory board Chairwoman Helen Nance declined comment about specific schools when reached last week. So did Alex Quigley, the board’s vice chairman and also principal of Maureen Joy Charter School in Durham.

The Herald-Sun listened to a low-quality online, recorded version of portions of the advisory board’s Nov. 25 meeting.

Although Kestrel Heights is now fully in compliance, board members seemed concerned that the school was not in compliance with Title II regarding teaching readiness, its services for exceptional children and accountability during the time it was under review for charter renewal.

And in asking for an interview with Research Triangle, the advisory board seemed to be responding to concerns from state charter school officials who worry about the service agreement between Research Triangle and National Heritage Academies, a charter school management organization that manages the school.

Officials said they worried about a declining enrolment – from 690 in 2011 to 627 this year – and whether National Heritage would continue to manage the school if enrollment continues to fall.

And because the school doesn’t have a fund balance or “rainy day” account, officials said they believe the school would fail if National Academies walked a way.

Perhaps the most grave concern was expressed about PACE, which has a declining enrollment and financial outlook.

Officials said expenditures at PACE have exceeded revenues for the last two years, including by $245,000 last year.

“The Division of School Business has serious concerns about the financial stability of this school and their ability to operate long term,” a state charter school consultant wrote. 

They also expressed concern about enrollment after a visit in mid-November.

While the school reported 169 students, consultants who visited the school in May only found 89 students.

They acknowledged not counting 26 students who reportedly only come in the afternoon.

The new advisory board replaced the Charter Schools Advisory Committee over the summer, and appears still to be finding its way as it makes its first charter renewal recommendations to the State Board of Education, which makes the final decision about charter renewals.

At its Nov. 25 meeting, for example, members were unclear about whether chairwoman Nance could vote on charter renewals. Legal assistants eventually weighed in, notifying Nance that she was indeed supposed to cast a vote.