The North Carolina Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to stop public funding for Kennedy and Crossroads charter schools in Charlotte, after an advisory panel said pulling the plug was important to set high standards for the independent public schools.
The vote means both schools, which have been open for more than a decade, must close at the end of this school year unless another charter operator takes over or they get a legal reprieve.
Kennedy’s leaders said Thursday they will file an immediate appeal. They contend the school, which moved to the campus of Johnson C. Smith University in August, met the conditions for renewal laid out by the state three years ago.
The attorney for Crossroads Charter High School said the board there is preparing a response.
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Several Board of Education members said they were, in the words of member Wayne McDevitt, “conflicted” about letting Kennedy’s charter expire. (Eric Davis, who is also a Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board member, abstained from that vote.) Crossroads drew no discussion before the voting.
Kennedy was one of the state’s first charter schools when it opened in 1998 as an alternative school for children who had been removed from abusive or neglectful homes and were living at Elon Homes for Children. It has been through several evolutions since, most recently converting to a K-12 school that aims to serve west Charlotte students who often struggle in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. JCSU President Ronald Carter described Kennedy as an important part of plans to revitalize that part of town.
Kennedy received an F from the state last year based on test scores and graduation rates. But school leaders blamed that on the transition to a new setting and weak performance on the math exam.
State board member A.L. “Buddy” Collins said Thursday he’s concerned that many district schools around the state are “comparably bad” and aren’t forced to close.
But he and other board members ultimately sided with member Becky Taylor, who also serves on the state Charter School Advisory Board. She said the advisory panel, made up mostly of charter school operators, voted 9-3 to let Kennedy’s charter lapse after reviewing academic and financial data. “The facts speak loudly,” Taylor said Thursday.
A Thursday statement from Kennedy Superintendent Fred Grosse and board Chair Brad Gilliam said they respect the state’s diligence but believe the vote to end the charter is wrong.
“There is nothing as important to us as continuing the good growth and student success at our school,” Gilliam said. “Students and families chose to attend Kennedy Charter and we intend our appeal to allow us to keep them on their upward trajectory.”
Crossroads, which caters to students who have dropped out or failed in traditional high schools, and Kennedy both have very high poverty levels, as do many of the lowest-performing schools in CMS and across the country.
Last month, when the Board of Education discussed Kennedy and Crossroads, advisory panel Chair Alex Quigley said it was important to be willing to close schools that can’t meet high standards. Quigley is director of a Durham charter school that also has high poverty levels, and said those students must be expected to succeed.
The two schools combined serve about 500 students and got about $6.5 million from taxpayers last year. But the vote on their future has broader implications in a state where charters are rapidly expanding, especially in the Charlotte region. North Carolina has 158 charter schools serving almost 82,000 North Carolina students. They will get $394 million in state money this year, and millions more in county money.
Crossroads, which opened in 2001, faced questions about management and spending. In a July letter to Crossroads, the state demanded reimbursement for almost $28,000 in “questioned costs” paid from state money in 2013-’14. The letter from Alexis Schauss of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction also said almost $54,000 in payments from local money lacked proper documentation, which “will be referred to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for determination of repayment.”
At a recent CMS board meeting, Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley said the district was waiting to see how the school’s situation is resolved to figure out how to handle the money questions.
The Crossroads board said recently they have reconstituted the board, replaced the principal and are working to resolve financial and academic issues. Crossroads also received an F based on test scores and graduation rates.
Crossroads lawyer Edana Lewis said Thursday afternoon the board will release a statement responding to the board vote Thursday or Friday.