- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina’s state school board could close four public charter schools following a string of bad news about the nontraditional schools running into financial problems, including an audit that said one mismanaged money for years before leaving taxpayers with debts.

The State Board of Education on Wednesday reviewed plans to revoke the operating agreements of the schools, which can use taxpayer money with more flexibility than regular public schools. An accelerated decision is scheduled Thursday to allow any appeals to wrap up before the start of the next school year in August.

State records show the State Board of Education last revoked one of the schools’ charters in July 2012. They’ve only done it four times since an early crackdown shut down seven schools within four years of North Carolina’s first charters opening in 1997. Three times as many schools have voluntarily quit operations as have had their charters revoked.

“I believe we’re tightening down and that we need to tighten down,” state school board chairman Bill Cobey said.

Competition for students and the state money that goes to the school they attend has pressured traditional public schools to improve, Cobey said, making “it more difficult for a charter school to meet their projected enrollment and they may be over-optimistic as to how many students will come to their school.”

There now are nearly 150 charter schools statewide, with 11 more set to open in August. Their numbers were capped at 100 statewide until lawmakers lifted that limit in 2011. Ten charter schools are on a financial watch list kept by state monitors.

The watch list includes STEM Education for a Global Society Academy in rural Columbus County, which is in its second year of operation. It ended its first year with student achievement so low it received an F grade and posted a deficit of nearly $28,000.

Others that could be forced to close are:

- Dynamic Community Charter School in Raleigh, which serves intellectually disabled students. The first-year school is on track to spend $265,000 more than its income.

- Children’s Village Academy in Kinston, which faced revocation two years ago and agreed to added conditions it’s now failing to meet, state officials said.

Nearby Kinston Charter Academy shut down suddenly weeks into the 2013-14 academic year. State Auditor Beth Wood’s office reported last month that the school’s leaders made a series of questionable financial choices including borrowing $230,000 at interest rates of up to 515 percent to keep the doors open.

The school board also could revoke the charter of Entrepreneur High School in Charlotte, which suddenly closed in January with just $14 in its bank account and debts of $275,000, including unpaid taxes and insurance.

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Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio

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