- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 11, 2001

Three public charter schools said yesterday they will defend themselves against charges of mismanagement and, if their schools don't open on time, parents should blame the D.C. school board for waiting until the school bell was about to ring before making its accusations.
The legal battle may not end until mid-September because all three schools are entitled to hear and rebut any charges that jeopardize the charters granted them by the city.
Under the District's charter school law, the board appears to have jumped the gun when it voted Wednesday to revoke the charters of Richard Milburn Public Charter Alternative High School, World Public Charter School of Washington and New Vistas Preparatory Public Charter School. The board sent letters to the three schools announcing the decision.
"In the letter they state they are revoking the charters, but they can't do that yet," said Robert Cane, executive director of FOCUS, a charter school advocacy group.
The law states that after a vote of consideration to revoke charters, the schools have 15 days to request a response hearing. The board then has 30 days to conduct hearings and take a final vote.
"The board acted irresponsibly by making it seem that the decision was final. They have frightened parents into removing their children from schools that may not even close," Mr. Cane said.
The school board Wednesday said the three schools were mismanaged last year to the point where school administrators failed to conduct background checks on teachers, didn't have enough textbooks to go around or enough teachers in classrooms. The board was relying on a report prepared by a group that monitored the citiy's 33 charter schools.
Carlos Lewis, director of studies for the World school said, "The board has refused to work with charter schools [which caused] some of the problems they are blaming us for."
"They denied our equal bid for the use of Hardy Middle School on Fox Hall Road and gave it to Rock Creek private school," said Mr. Lewis.
He said that the law specifies that charter schools should receive preference over other schools when an equal bid is made for property.
The monitors' report found the World School, located in the Capital Children's Museum, didn't acquire the proper licenses to use the museum as a school.
"The board is not a friend of charter schools, and they seek to eliminate any competition before we have a chance to show them up," Mr. Lewis said.
Board member Dwight Singleton of District 2 called that accusation unfair.
"On the human side, the charter schools have a reason to cry foul, but they have to realize that we were forced to take them after the federal government mandated the system, and this board had no power when the bill was passed in 1995," Mr. Singleton said. The financial control board was overseeing District schools at that time.
"What explanation do they have for waiting until the last minute to [say charters were being revoked] — after we have ordered books and hired new staff?" Mr. Lewis asked.
Mr. Cane asked the same question.
In a previous interview with The Washington Times, Julie Mikuta, District 3's school board representative, said the inspections required many monitors and it took a long time to assemble their findings, "which is why this is coming so late in the summer."
Mrs. Mikuta was unavailable for comment on the charges made in the report.
James Peal, spokesman for Richard Milburn school and principal of Rabaut School on First and Peabody streets NW, where the charter school is housed, said the school will continue preparing for the upcoming year despite the board's vote on Wednesday, as did representatives from the World and New Vista schools.
"An appeal hearing is certainly in our plans and our goal is to ensure that the school remains open serving the community," said Mr. Peal.
Representatives for New Vistas School declined to comment on advise of their attorney, but said they, too, will seek a hearing as well.
"A lot of propaganda has been shot from both sides, but the real issue is money for services —where to get it and how to use it," said Mr. Singleton.
"It takes more than books and teachers to run a school — it has to be managed properly. A lot of these schools are having trouble doing both, especially those with at-risk children who need more services than average students."

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