Four Delaware charters face scrutiny

Four Delaware charters went before the state’s Charter School Accountability Committee Wednesday.

The quartet are under formal review, an oversight process that can result in charter revocation.

Three of the schools–Prestige Academy, Friere Charter, and Delaware Design-Lab High School–face sluggish enrollment that could compromise their financial viability.

The fourth school, Academy of Dover, faces a myriad of problems.

In 2010, an arbitrator ruled that the school owed nearly a million dollars to Mosaica, a charter management company, for breach of contract. Jim Taylor, a lawyer for Academy of Dover, said Wednesday that the school was unable to pay the debt and that Mosaica did not seriously pursue payment until recently.

With accrued interest the school now owes more than $2 million, a fee that has been “held over us like a Sword of Damocles,” said board chair Kimeu Boynton. Taylor said Academy of Dover and Mosaica are hoping to reach a settlement that allows the school to stay afloat.

Meanwhile, the state auditor’s office is looking into allegations of financial impropriety against former head of school Noel Rodriguez. Rodriguez is alleged to have used school funds for personal purchases, a case that is startlingly familiar to one that broke late last year at Family Foundations Academy. Family Foundations, a charter school with locations in New Castle and Wilmington, ended up firing its co-leaders and replacing its board after an audit revealed the leaders had spent tens of thousands of dollars on lavish personal expenses.

Wednesday’s hearing is the latest in a string of charter mishaps and turbulence. Two charter schools–Reach Academy and the Maurice J. Moyer Academic Institute–will close at the end of this school year due to poor academic performance. A third school, Gateway Lab, nearly closed, but was granted a late reprieve by the state.

Of the three schools facing low enrollment, Prestige Academy’s case appears to be the most severe. While Design-Lab and Friere have yet to open, Prestige has been a charter mainstay for years. Opened in 2008, Prestige has experienced a recent slide in academic achievement that coincides with its enrollment woes.

The formal review process will culminate at the State Board of Education meeting on June 18. At the point the state can opt to revoke the schools’ charters, place them on probation, or take no punitive action.

The state’s Charter School Accountability Committee will issue a recommendation in early June.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.