Can this school be saved? NC invites takeover bids for historic Charlotte charter

Community Charter School in Charlotte’s Cherry neighborhood opened in 1997.
Community Charter School in Charlotte’s Cherry neighborhood opened in 1997.

With test scores low, enrollment declining and money tight, Charlotte’s Community Charter School got a chance at survival Thursday when the North Carolina Board of Education opened the door to takeover by another charter school.

It would be a first if it works, a prospect that some Board of Education members said holds out hope for other struggling charter schools. If it fails, Community Charter will have to close at the end of this school year.

The school, located in Charlotte’s historically black and currently gentrifying Cherry neighborhood, was one of North Carolina’s first charter schools when it opened in 1997. But it has fallen on hard times in recent years, and when its charter came up for renewal the state’s Charter School Advisory Board recommended against continuing to pump in public money.

“The trend lines are trending downward in the three most important categories,” advisory board Chair Alex Quigley told the Board of Education in Raleigh. Enrollment is down to 82 students, which contributes to the fact that the school hasn’t been covering its operating costs. And not only has the school earned an F from the state for the past three years, but pass rates for its low-income students are more than 20 percentage points below low-income students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Quigley said.

The charter takeover option, technically known as “assumption,” has been on the books for awhile but has never been used. Quigley said the current board’s willingness to hand off to another successful charter school is the key to success, though the next step is finding a viable partner to make a takeover proposal.

Thursday’s vote launches a timeline that will end with Community either changing hands or closing this summer. The board asked for an update in January.

If the school survives, it’s unclear where it will be. Community currently leases the historic Morgan School from CMS, but that lease expires in 2017. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission has offered to buy the building in hopes of preserving it.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms