- The Washington Times - Friday, December 13, 2002

The D.C. school board is scheduled to decide today whether a charter school that serves about 60 students with emotional and behavioral disorders must close next week for lack of funding.

Officials for the Jos-Arz Therapeutic Public Charter School, which opened in September 2000, have been waiting a year for a "letter of good standing" from the school board. The letter will allow the school to float a $16 million bond approved by the D.C. Council in March.

Gwendolyn Kimbrough, founder and executive director of Jos-Arz, said the school will not be able to pay its rent or operating costs without the funding.

"The city is on the verge of losing a precious educational resource due to the actions of an ill-advised body of public officials who are acting contrary to the interests of our children," she said.

"We have satisfied all the legal and contractual requirements to receive the letter. There is no good reason we are not getting it. And even with the approval, we may not have enough time to get financing."

School board members say they were waiting for an accounting of public funds turned over to the school and have questioned the school's financial stability.

The school received an $8 million special grant from the D.C. Council in fiscal 2001, partially based on an overestimate of the number of students the therapeutic school would serve. Jos-Arz gave $4 million of the grant to Community Research Inc., a local nonprofit specializing in drug-abuse prevention programs, to use as collateral for a line of credit to pay for the school's expansion.

School board members say the expansion did not cost $4 million and have requested an audit by the school system's chief financial officer, which is due next month.

In addition, board members question the relationships among the school, the nonprofit group and a company Mrs. Kimbrough owns that does business with the school.

Mrs. Kimbrough served on Community Research Inc.'s board before Jos-Arz opened. Her husband, Rollie, is the nonprofit's board president a nonvoting position.

She owns American Therapeutic Services Inc., which provides transportation and drug-screening services for the school.

Mrs. Kimbrough said the relationships are outlined in the school's charter application, which was approved by a previous school board.

She said the board has refused to issue its approval because it wants Community Research Inc. to sign an agreement to sell the building to the school or to the school board at a price set by the board.

The building at 220 Taylor St. NE is under a 45-year lease, after which it will revert to the school for $1.

The monthly $72,000 rent is set to increase significantly every year to cover expansion costs, school officials said. Currently, the school is $500,000 in arrears.

Mrs. Kimbrough said she intends to take the school board to court to win the letter of good standing and stave off bankruptcy.

School board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz did not return several calls seeking comment.

School officials initially planned for the school to teach 120 day students and 70 full-time residential students. The school currently has 54 day students and four residential students.

An expansion that opened up 56 beds was completed this year, but they haven't been filled because the school system won't refer students to the school, Mrs. Kimbrough said.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the matter during a special session today.

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