Delaware’s Reach Academy and Pencader keep charters

It’s official, Reach Academy for Girls and Pencader Charter High School will remain open for the 2011-2012 academic year.

Delaware’s State Board of Education voted 6-0, with one abstention from Dr. Terry Whittaker, Thursday, in favor of giving two charter schools a second chance. The votes were based on Delaware Department of Education Secretary Lillian Lowery’s recommendations, after both schools provided evidence they could turn things around. 

Both schools had faced closure because of governance and financial issues.

“The students, parents and teachers who have stood by these schools are counting on their new leaders to make good on their promises. With this decision, we are giving the schools the chance – with close state oversight – to do so,” Lowery said.

“We really have a wonderful school and I think the parents and the students are just thrilled with the outcome,” said Pencader Charter’s Principal, Ann Lewis after the vote. “We actually welcome [the state’s] watchful eye. It’s something that really should have been done all along.”

“I’m very pleased, absolutely ecstatic actually and relieved that this is over and we can get started with our year to get our girls hitting the ground running,” echoed Reach Academy’s School Leader Tara Allen.

Both schools are now on probation and subject to meet strict conditions, otherwise their charter will be revoked.

The criteria varied for each school, given Reach’s problems were largely tied to leadership and governance, and Pencader’s dealt with poor leadership and financial mismanagement. However, there were some similar requirements including, a financial training program, provided by the state, that both schools’ board members must complete no later than September 30, 2011. Additionally, the schools must submit a revised 2011-2012 budget by September 1 and starting on the first day of September, the state will require Reach and Pencader to submit monthly financial statements reflecting their current financial status.

Thursday’s votes come as no surprise. Last week, Dr. Lowery sent a letter to Reach Academy indicating she would “seek the assent of the State Board of Education to impose probationary measures on Reach rather than to revoke its charter,” after which a crawl on Reach’s website appeared stating, “THIS JUST IN… REACH ACADEMY FOR GIRLS WILL REMAIN OPEN!!!!!!!”

Wednesday, Pencader received similar news over the phone. Afterwards, school leaders sent out a letter to parents saying “… after a discussion with Secretary Lowery’s staff at the Department of Education, the Secretary will recommend to the State Board of Education that Pencader Charter High School will remain open… We are not going anywhere!!”

Both schools say they have new policies and people in place to ensure neither find themselves in this position again.

“Our new board are a great group of individuals, very intelligent, very capable of, you know, attaining these conditions,” said Reach’s Allen. “We have a lot of goals ahead of us that we’re just ready to go running.”

“We now have a CPA treasurer, we also have several other people with expertise in the financial area, and as you heard the board state today, that we brought in a Mr. Bill Bentz from an organization called Innovative Schools, who has a significant background in school finance,” said Pencader’s Lewis, whose school is also required to refinance and pay off its $460-thousand in debt by 2013 as part of the deal.

Meanwhile, the first day of classes is fast approaching. School starts for Pencader freshmen August 29th and Reach’s first day is August 31st.

Delaware Dept. of Education’s conditions for Pencader Charter High School:

·     No later than Sept. 30, each Pencader board member must complete the state’s financial training program.

·     The school must convene its required Citizen Budget Oversight Committee within 30 days and meet at least monthly. All committee members must complete training.

·     By Sept. 1, the school board must submit to the state evidence of specific building-level financial oversight procedures that explain how Pencader’s day-to-day financial operations are implemented and who—at the building level—is responsible for  monitoring those procedures.

·     By Sept. 1, the school board must submit a revised 2011-2012 budget and budget narrative to include correct interest payments and a 2012-2013 budget and budget narrative to include interest, loan payments, other changes to the budget to accomplish the interest and loan payments and provide impact to school operations. All of that shall be subject to the final approval of the department, in its sole discretion, and shall comply with the representations made by the school as part of the record in this matter.

·     Beginning Sept. 1 and on the same day of each succeeding month, the school board must submit to the state, on a form to be provided by the department, a financial analysis reflecting Pencader’s current financial status. Pencader also must meet monthly, for as long as the state deems necessary, with representatives of the department to discuss Pencader finances and administrative issues.  Everyone involved with financial matters at Pencader must be available to attend these meetings and the state will have the right to require the attendance of specified individuals at the meetings.  The state also must have unlimited access to all of Pencader’s financial records, with such redactions as may be necessary to protect any person’s right to privacy, but not including the identity of any creditor of, or donor to, Pencader.  The purpose of such meetings, in part, shall be to satisfy the state that Pencader continues to be financially viable, that it is paying all of its obligations in a timely manner and that it is amassing the necessary surpluses to timely pay all of its debts in full.

·     By Aug. 1, Pencader must provide the state with satisfactory evidence that it has paid in full the Aqua loan for $160,000 and with signed copies of any new loan documents relating to the refinancing of said loan. Any new loan obtained to repay the Aqua loan will not exceed $160,000 and will provide for interest-only payments in Fiscal Year 2010, with the rate of interest not to exceed 5 percent per annum.  Further, Pencader shall repay in full the principal balance of the new loan no later than Sept. 1, 2012.

·     For so long as Pencader shall remain on probation, it shall not incur any additional debt without the prior written consent of the Department of Education.  By June 30, 2013, Pencader also must have repaid in full the $300,000 loan from Greggo & Ferrara and shall be debt free.

Delaware Dept. of Education’s conditions for Reach Academy for Girls:

·     No later than Sept. 30, each Reach board member must complete the state’s financial training program

·     The school must convene its required Citizen Budget Oversight Committee within 30 days and meet at least monthly. All committee members must complete training.

·     By Sept. 1, the school board must submit to the state evidence of specific building-level financial oversight procedures that explain how Reach’s day-to-day financial operations are implemented and who—at the building level—is responsible for  monitoring those procedures.

·     By Sept. 1, the school board must submit a revised 2011-2012 budget and budget narrative justifying its allocations for teacher and leader professional development, instructional supplies and new utility expenses, including costs for meter installation.

·     By Sept. 1, the school board must submit to the state a plan explaining the source of funding for instructional supplies for four years with revised budgets reflecting such revenues and expenditures.  This condition is imposed because instructional supplies are currently funded in the Reach budget by federal start-up funds that will not be available in future years.

·     Reach’s director must schedule quarterly visits from the representatives of the state’s curriculum and instruction workgroup to assist Reach with fidelity of curriculum delivery given the reductions to that budget area at Reach.

·     Beginning Sept. 1 and on the same day of each succeeding month, the school board must submit to the state, on a form to be provided.

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