- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2001

D.C. school board officials today begin considering the future of five charter schools after reports of financial and operational mismanagement in the publicly funded, independently run schools.

The school board is reviewing Richard Milburn Public Charter Alternative High School, World Public Charter School, New Vistas Preparatory Public Charter School, Ideal Academy Public Charter School and Techworld Public Charter School, which have serious management and instructional problems, according to internal monitoring reports obtained by The Washington Times.

For example, the treasurer of New Vistas' Board of Trustees "lacked basic information" on the school's budgeting process and finances, monitors wrote. Classes in core subjects lacked textbooks, and lesson plans were not at appropriate levels for students.

In addition, monitors noted a lack of records documenting the residency or updated health status of students, a failure to conduct background checks on all employees, a failure to submit audits of financial statements, and water leaks and rat droppings in classrooms.

Monitors also found the World Public Charter School "remains out of compliance with the D.C. School Reform Act" in many areas, including its failure to conduct employee-background checks, acquire proper licenses for facilities, submit a complete annual report for school year 1998-99 and adhere to established contracting procedures.

Board officials said they will discuss whether to begin revoking at least three of the schools' charters, school sources said.

"The board takes its oversight responsibilites very seriously," said board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz. "When schools fail to deliver good education, we have to act expeditiously."

Charter advocates said school system officials violated the rules by seizing financial records from schools that are independent corporations.

"We don't defend bad schools," said Robert Cane, executive director of FOCUS, a charter school advocacy group. "But there is a process. You can't just put on your jackboots and march into an independent school and take all their financial records. And you can't expect schools to respond to criticism given a half-day's notice. I don't know what they are trying to do."

The public-school system "has the right and authority to monitor their charter schools," said Robert Crosby, a trustee of the Richard Milburn Public Charter School. "But they need to clarify some misinformation and inconsistencies in the report."

Officials from the other four schools were unavailable for comment.

Charter schools were first authorized by Congress in 1995. Currently, 33 charters operate in the District. Seventeen are overseen by the school board and the rest are chartered by the D.C. Public Charter School Board.

It is rare that the school board revokes charters. In February, they considered revoking Techworld, but placed the school on probation instead.

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