Three Delaware charters suffering enrollment woes and a fourth facing financial trouble will be placed on probation, but will not close.
That decision was made Thursday by the State Board of Education, and follows recommendations made by the state’s Charter School Accountability Committee earlier this month.
Friere Charter School and Delaware Design Lab School will be under probation for six months. The probationary period for Academy of Dover and Prestige Academy will last one year.
Friere and Delaware Design Lab are both new schools that struggled to fill their first classes. The state requires schools to fill at least 80 percent of their available seats by April 1. Friere and Delaware Design lab both failed to meet that mark, but have since reached the threshold.
Prestige Academy, which opened in 2008, also fell short of its enrollment target. In addition, test scores at the all-boys charter in Wilmington have declined in recent years. Prestige recently replaced its head of school, but has only filled 71 percent of its available seats, according to figures published June 3.
The Academy of Dover ran into two major financial problems. The school’s former leader is accused of using school credit cards for personal expenses. He resigned late last year, but questions about board oversight remain.
Academy of Dover is also negotiating a settlement with an education management company that successfully sued the school for breach of contract, but waited years to collect.
Academy of Dover told the state in early June that it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the outside contractor. That agreement would reduce the damages by two-thirds and allow Academy of Dover to spread payments over the next three years. The school owed roughly $2 million stemming from the original judgment.
The probation conditions are different for each school depending on the violations, but generally require monthly updates to the state. Those updates typically relate to the school’s prior struggles. Charters with lagging enrollment, for instance, may have to submit updates on student recruitment and retention.
Charter schools receive per-pupil funding and must budget based on the number of students they have promised to enroll. Schools that fall well short of their admissions targets may face financial strain, which is why the state monitors that figure and can close schools with poor enrollment.
At Thursday’s meeting, the State Board of Education also approved minor changes to Delaware’s teacher evaluation system despite push-back from the state’s teacher’s union. Thanks to the changes, in-person observation will now account for a greater portion of the rating formula.
The state teacher’s union believes there have been too many recent changes to the evaluation process, which has eroded teacher confidence in the system.
Only one board member, Patrick Heffernan, voted against the proposed changes. Heffernan said he didn’t want to force through so minor a change over the objections of the teacher’s union.
“If my kids are arguing about something I just say go away and come back when you can agree on something,” Heffernan said.
Last year, nearly all teachers were rated “effective” or “highly effective” using the existing evaluation formula.