Crossroads High appeals closing, saying state process was flawed

Crossroads Charter High School on North Tryon Street.
Crossroads Charter High School on North Tryon Street.

Crossroads Charter High School has filed an appeal to stop the state from cutting off its money and forcing it to close this summer.

In a petition filed with the Office of Administrative Hearings in Raleigh, the school’s lawyers said last week’s vote to let the charter expire at the end of this school year was based on “biased, flawed information” provided by state staff and a Charter School Advisory Board review that didn’t let Crossroads make its case.

On Feb. 4, the state Board of Education voted unanimously to stop public funding to Crossroads and Kennedy Charter School, both located in Charlotte, based on weak academic performance and, in Crossroads’ case, financial questions. Kennedy leaders said they also plan to appeal.

Unless the court intervenes, the expiration of the two charters means the schools must close at the end of this school year or be taken over by new operators.

Both charter schools serve students from impoverished homes, who tend to struggle in traditional schools as well. The two schools combined serve about 500 students and got about $6.5 million from taxpayers last year.

Alex Quigley, a Durham charter school operator who chairs the advisory panel, said letting the two Charlotte charters expire sends a signal that North Carolina is setting high standards for the independent public schools, which report directly to the state.

“We would like to maintain our autonomy, but we need to be held to a high standard,” Quigley, whose school also has high poverty levels, told the Board of Education.

Charter schools have expanded rapidly, especially in the Charlotte region, since the state lifted a 100-school cap in 2011. The state now 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.

Staff from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction reported that Crossroads had failed to properly document tens of thousands of dollars in expenses and had weak board oversight, as well as low test scores and graduation rates.

The Crossroads appeal says state staff showed “personal bias” against the school and failed to provide public records that would have helped the school contest the findings. It also says school leaders never got a chance to fully answer questions at the Dec. 7 advisory board meeting that resulted in a recommendation to close Crossroads.

The Board of Education followed the advisory board’s recommendation without directly hearing from representatives of Crossroads or Kennedy.

Both schools say they’re working to correct shortcomings. Kennedy finished its transition from a south Charlotte campus to Johnson C. Smith University in west Charlotte this summer. Crossroads replaced its principal and recruited a new board.

“We are fighting to continue serving our students,” Crossroads board Chairman Davíd Jean said in a statement. “With a new strategic plan in place; a strong, dedicated board of directors; improved financial oversight and a new administrative team, Crossroads Charter High School is undoubtedly positioned for success if only granted the opportunity to continue serving students in the Charlotte community as we have for the last 15 years.”

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