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Trouble in Charter land? SDUSD takes step towards closing Promise Charter

June 9, 2011

Emily Alpert over at the Voice of San Diego reports that the San Diego Unified School District is taking steps towards closing Promise, which is a Chollas View Charter School with a history of violations which range from keeping inaccurate financial statements to violating open meetings laws.

My hunch is that there are many more Charters that operate like this, but right now there has just not been a lot of reporting about them.

The school board voted 3-2 to send a letter to Promise that would trigger a hearing where the school could make a case for why it should stay open. The school board would then have 30 days to decide whether or not the school should be closed. Board members Shelia Jackson and Scott Barnett voted against sending the letter, saying they didn’t want to take any steps to close the school.

“If we revoke this charter and the school closes, it’s a failure of the system,” Barnett said. He lamented that school districts, which are supposed to provide limited oversight of charters, can’t make “surgical changes” to how they work, only “live-or-die decisions” such as whether the charter should stay open.

But other board members said they needed to take the next step to air out the issues at Promise and decide its fate. Board member John Lee Evans said the charter had repeatedly suffered problems that went beyond bureaucratic errors. President Richard Barrera said he wasn’t convinced that Promise would take its problems seriously if San Diego Unified didn’t take the next step toward shutting it down.

“People have said, ‘Give us a chance to work with the district.’ You have had a chance to work with this district and you will have a chance to work with the district,” Barrera said.

The controversial step toward closing Promise comes as San Diego Unified has reassessed its relationship with its charter schools, tightening its oversight and offering charters-in-the-making less help. Promise has been ground zero for its debates over charter freedom and accountability. Such shutdowns are rare: The last time a charter school was shuttered by San Diego Unified was five years ago, though others have dissolved on their own after being warned of problems.

Charter schools are publicly funded but independently run by their own boards. School districts decide whether or not they can open in the first place and monitor them. If they run afoul of the law, mismanage their money or fall short of academic goals, districts can shut them down. Charter schools can appeal those decisions to the County Office of Education and ultimately to the state.

Barnett is worrying about a “failure of the (Charter) system” – this is the concern that he has.  He isn’t concerned about how Charter schools and the hype that surrounds them have harmed the traditional public school system, and this guy sits on the school board.

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