- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

Several D.C. charter schools over-reported student enrollment for the current academic year, according to figures in a city-sponsored audit, indicating hundreds of thousands of dollars less were allotted for public schools.
Eleven charter schools run by the D.C. school board and 16 schools run by the Public Charter School Board over-reported 77 students and 84 students, respectively.
The schools are funded publicly on a per-pupil basis. For every student it enrolls, a charter school receives between $5,097 and $7,679, in addition to a facilities allotment of $1,421 per student, said Linda McKay, executive director for the charter schools run by the D.C. school board. Special-education students receive higher allotments.
The largest discrepancy was by Techworld Public Charter School in Southwest, which over-reported 29 students, according to the audit. Miss McKay said school board staff later verified the over-count at 19 students.
Booker T. Washington Public Charter School for Technical Arts in Northwest over-reported 13 students in its day and evening sessions, as did the Arts and Technology Academy in Northeast.
The audit also reported large numbers of absentee students at several charter schools in the District on Oct. 5, the day of the count. Of the 10,839 students enrolled in charter schools, 2,467 students, or 22.76 percent, were absent. Public schools recorded 9,097 students absent out of a total 66,066, or 13.77 percent.
The highest absentee rate among charter schools was at Booker T. Washington's evening program, where 70.97 percent of the students failed to attend on the day of the count.
The audit was the first time the State Education Office conducted a 100 percent verification of student enrollment in the District's public and charter schools. The office was created in October 2000 to ensure the equitable distribution of resources among students.
The audit, conducted by Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio and Associates, said it found "only minor differences" from the enrollment numbers given to them by the schools. However, it rapped charter schools for not having an efficient system of gathering attendance information.
"Not only do many public charter schools not have a standardized system for maintaining student records, many were missing necessary information such as enrollment dates and forms and attendance records," the report said.
Under city law, two authorities the D.C. school board and the Public Charter School Board are empowered to charter schools. Charter schools are funded using the same formula that funds traditional public schools.
Miss McKay said that while enrollment figures were inflated somewhat every year, the numbers appeared to be higher this year, particularly for Techworld.
"It is unfortunate that it was such a high number this year," she said, adding that the board relied on principals to provide it with accurate data on enrollment during a census of school enrollment, carried out every year about a month after the start of school.
School board member Julie Mikuta said the issue needed to be addressed, but added, "I don't think the over-reporting was a malicious act or purposely deceitful."
Miss McKay said she had not yet calculated how much extra money the board had paid out to the schools that over-reported, but funding would be adjusted during the next allocation and those schools likely would receive less.
Techworld which is on probation for other irregularities, mainly financial could lose its charter. The school board will vote on the school's fate today.
At an informal hearing before the school board last week where the enrollment discrepancies were discussed, Techworld's attorney said the school made an honest mistake.
"The over-count was not intentional but the result of Techworld's method of counting students," said Harvey Schweitzer, adding that some students enrolled with the school last year had not returned. "They never formally withdrew. Thus they were carried as enrolled."
The numbers reported to the school system came from a count of students in homeroom classes, administrators said. Simon King, Techworld's principal, said he would ensure the mistake was not repeated. "I will personally do a head count to prevent any mistakes during homeroom counts," he said.
A former employee of the school, Calvin Baptiste, testified at the hearing that the enrollment had been "padded to defraud the public school system."
He said Mr. King had asked him to continue calling out the names of students who had left the school.
Mr. King dismissed Mr. Baptiste's claims, saying he was a "disgruntled employee" who was fired because he had not provided some documents necessary for his employment.


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