Charter school faces action

Extended probation to be recommended today for Chesapeake Science Point

May 02, 2007|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,Sun Reporter

Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell plans to recommend today another year of probation for a Hanover charter school that has wrestled with two years of foundering financial audits, weak student recordkeeping and inadequate services for special needs children.

Maxwell's recommendation, which will be presented to the school board at its 10 a.m. meeting, hinges on whether administrators at the school can submit evidence to the district by May 11 showing that it has been approved for loans with banks to make up potential shortfalls.

The district has been critical of the school's reliance on private donations - more than $440,000 worth - to pay its debts. The district also wants to see a "corrective action plan" detailing how the school plans to keep its finances, recordkeeping and other services in compliance with county school system standards and state law.

Charter school officials said yesterday that they were frustrated to learn of a possible third year of monitoring. The intervention the school with 164 students in grades six through eight has received from the district has been "stressful," the school's director, Fatih Kandil, said.

"We need to be able to operate in a stress-free environment to allow for more innovation, which is the spirit of charter schools," Kandil said. "I don't understand this for one more year."

Though school officials acknowledge Chesapeake Science Point charter school has made strides in improving its faults, including successfully addressing eight areas of concern highlighted in a financial audit last year, Maxwell seeks another progress report around December of next year.

"They're still operating poorly. The only reason they were able to correct some of their issues is because we sent people in to help them," Maxwell said. "I don't intend to spend another year propping them up. They better be able to fly on their own after next year."

In his recommendation posted on the district's Web site, Maxwell suggests giving the charter school "a greater degree of autonomy, meaning without the intensive level of intervention."

The school system has been particularly concerned about the services the charter school provides for students with disabilities. The school has kept incomplete records and failed to regularly notify parents of students' progress. Kandil said it would make more sense for the district to cut funding in the specific areas where it feels the school is not up to par. That's the way the State Department of Education treats public school districts, Kandil said.

Another overarching probationary period is more restrictive, Kandil said, with officials casting a critical eye "on everything from how clean our floors are to how we hire our teachers to what we do with the students. This is too much."

The struggle between the charter school and the school system is evidence of vagueness in a "cockamamie" state law, said school board Vice President Eugene Peterson, where the system is unclear about how involved it should be. Chesapeake Science Point has been haunted by critical audits since it opened five days late in August 2005. But the criticism hasn't affected parent interest in the school, which has 250 pending applications.

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