PACE expects ‘tough fight’ for charter renewal

Jan. 28, 2014 @ 03:36 PM

PACE Academy officials are acknowledging that the troubled charter school faces a “tough fight” to keep its doors open.
The state’s Charter School Advisory Committee has recommended that the school’s charter not be renewed because of a pattern of non-compliance, fiscal concerns and low academic performance.
The state Board of Education is expected to rule on the recommendation next month.
In the meantime, PACE officials are challenging many of the claims made by the state Office of Charter Schools (OCS), whose assessment of the school caused the advisory committee to recommend that the school’s charter not be renewed.
The OCS has charged that the school has been noncompliant in the area of accountability due to the fact that fewer than 95 percent of its students have been tested on end-of-course tests.
PACE officials said the school doesn’t meet the 95 percent threshold because state law doesn’t require students with documented learning disabilities in math to take the end-of-course test.
“The fact that NCDPI (N.C. Department of Public Instruction) has chosen to count that against us is not only unethical, but quite possibly illegal,” said PACE Principal Rhonda Franklin.
Officials also denied that the school is financially troubled, even though state officials contend the school had a $245,000 budget deficit last year.
“It’s truly shocking that the Office of Charter Schools cites concerns about PACE’s finances when there has never been any finding through independent, annual audits,” said Sylvia Mason, chairwoman of the school’s board of directors.
Nearly 60 percent of PACE’s students receive exceptional children’s care, a fact officials said explains the school’s low performance on state tests.
“Most of these students are required to take the same tests in biology, algebra I, and English as students who don’t need those services,” said Assistant Principal Jane Miller. “Comparing testing results of students with autism, Down syndrome, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and others with IQs below 70 to the results attained in regular school districts is unjust at best.”
In a recent interview, Cande Honeycutt, a consultant with OCS, said a school created to serve exceptional children is a great idea.
But she said the state has found that PACE is not serving its students well.
“If your mission is to serve at-risk kids, then you can’t hide behind the fact that your kids are at-risk and therefore, expectations are low,” Honeycutt said.
She said noncompliance issues, trouble managing finances and a decline in enrollment is usually more than a charter school can overcome.
“Often, that becomes a spiral that schools can’t get out of,” Honeycutt said.
PACE is one of two charter schools recommended for non-renewal by the state charter school advisory board.
The other is Coastal Academy for Technology and Science in Morehead City.
Like with PACE, the advisory board cited patterns of noncompliance, low academic performance and concerns about the school’s financial sustainability in making its recommendation to not renew the school’s charter.
PACE’s news release contained statements of support from parents including Kath Hotelling, who questioned the ability of the advisory board to determine whether PACE is adequately serving its students.
“My daughter has been at PACE for four years and is thriving,” Hotelling said. “PACE has essentially given her a future, which seemed elusive at her home school. The notion that some newly formed bureaucratic group can take that away from her is appalling.”