Despite reports of an overstretched budget, nepotism, missed deadlines and academic struggles, members of the state’s Charter School Advisory Board say they will give one eastern North Carolina charter another year to work out its issues, according to a Wednesday report from EdNC.
According to EdNC reporter Alex Granados, board members on the advisory panel said they would begin revocation of Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy‘s charter next December if the school fails to meet certain requirements.
Those stipulations include that the school needs to complete its reporting requirements on deadline and needs to either add more board members to its governing board to meet statutory requirements or dissolve its board. The school must also submit monthly budgetary and financial data, meet with the charter school advisory board two more times, and reconcile its payroll information so that it is clear how many employees it actually has, as opposed to the number listed in its payroll. He also said that the Office of Charter Schools should make at least two unannounced visits to the school before December.
The K-4 school, which serves around 300 students in Bertie County, has been in operation since 2014. Since then, its academic struggles have been noted by the charter panel.
On its most recent state report card, the charter earned an overall performance grade of “D,” with a “D” on its end-of-grade reading tests and an “F” on its math tests.
As noted by EdNC, though, the school’s struggles appear to extend beyond that.
The school opened in 2014 and was labeled as low performing by the state in 2015 and 2016. On at least three occasions, the school missed deadlines to submit a required audit to the state.
Alexis Schauss, the Department of Public Instruction director of school business, described the finances of the school as very lean, noting that at the end of 2016, their fund balance was a little over $5,000.
“They are very much on the edge of significant deficits,” she said.
Schauss also said that the ratio of teachers at the school versus other personnel seemed out of balance in comparison to other similar schools. Heritage has about 65 people on its payroll.
“For a school of 300 students, it did seem like they had a large number of non-certified personnel,” she said, adding that the money for salaries could be better spent in the classroom.
At issue for many of the board members was the inability of the leaders of the school to meet deadlines. For instance, the advisory board had asked the school for a variety of documents in advance of the meeting. But those documents only came in last night, leaving board members very little time to absorb them.
At one point in the meeting, Kashi Hall, founding director of the school, was asked for the projected average daily membership for next year. She responded by saying that those figures were not due until the end of the month. Board members then notified her that they were, in fact, due yesterday, something they said Hall had been told about.
“You all notoriously miss things,” board member Cheryl Turner told Hall. “Was there anybody else here who didn’t know that was due yesterday?”
Nepotism was another issue addressed by members. Hall said that her father, mother, and twin sister were employed in some capacity by the school. Hall blamed the school’s problems with nepotism on the fact that only about 10 percent of the Bertie County population is educated.
“That 10 percent is going to be my family on two sides,” she said.
After the motion was made to immediately revoke the school’s charter, the board had a passionate debate on what to do, with some board members urging immediate action while others said it would not be feasible to close the school down so quickly.
Board vice chair Steven Walker said the school had ample notice of the materials it needed to provide for yesterday’s meeting. “And we didn’t get the stuff until 2 a.m. this morning,” he said.
He also said he wondered at the level of rigor being taught in the school while noting that the academic performance of the school was not good and its governance was a “disaster.”
“I think we are throwing the taxpayers money down the drain to continue to give this school money,” Walker said.
Board member Eric Sanchez said the school leaders did themselves no favors with the way they answered the board’s inquiries.
“It’s been embarrassing to hear the answers,” he said.
At various points in the meeting, Hall defended herself. She revealed to the board several times that she had a disability and that the school hired an executive assistant to help her stay on top of things.
“I am a good leader,” she said. “Do I have struggles and things that I’m dealing with? Yes, I do.”
Despite the board’s frustrations with the school, members voted 6-4 against a motion to close the school, EdNC reports. The board eventually voted 9-1 to allow the board to continue operations into next year.
The charter board serves as an advisory panel to the State Board of Education, which has the final say on charter applications and revocations.