School leader on Delaware charter school’s possible closing: “I think this is a political move”

The current leader of Delaware’s Pencader Charter High School is not buying the state’s reasoning for the school’s possible closure in the fall. 

On Friday, the Charter School Accountability Committee recommended that Pencader’s charter be revoked because of “serious financial and governance concerns.”

“With all the documentation we provided, with a balanced budget for next year, understanding that we have grants being planned that will help our bottom line as well, there’s no reason for them to be concerned about us meeting our responsibilities fiscally,” says Pencader School Leader Ann Lewis.

Lewis, who became School Leader in February,  says she and the Board of Education as well as other administrators were proactive in addressing financial problems that developed under the previous administration. 

“In the last three months we have renegotiated every single contract the school has, and have made cuts in expenditures close to $600-thousand,” Pencader Board of Education Harrie Ellen Minnehan says.  “Our landlord has given us big cuts in the rent.”

“I think this is a political move,” Lewis says about the state’s decision. “I think they have not done their job in overseeing charter schools as designated by House Bill 119.  I think this is political, that they’re trying to cover themselves because they didn’t do their jobs.”

The Charter School Accountability Commission of the Delaware Department of Education cited several concerns when it took the vote Friday, including “the lack of specificity and cohesion in the school’s response to the financial problems.”  One committee member took note of a wide variance in the school’s own estimate of its financial deficiency, placed once at $337-thousand but projected elsewhere at $658-thousand.

According to Minnehan, as a charter school Pencader only received about 60-percent of the funding a public school would get, because it receives no capital funding.  “That means that a charter school has to take some of their operating money, and take some of that to pay for your building and capital costs.”

Lewis says a lot rests with a public hearing to be held July 13th at 5:00 p.m. at the cabinet room of the Townsend Building, 401 Federal Street in Dover.  Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery will consider testimony from that day and the committee’s recommendation when she makes a recommendation to the state Board of Education, which would vote July 21st.

“Our biggest concern about this is, we have an academically viable school.  Our academics are phenomenal,” Lewis says.  “I just don’t understand how they could even begin to think about closing a successful academic school, and taking the freedom of choice away from our families.”

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