The DC Public Charter Board announced yesterday that Washington Math Science and Technology PCS was “unable to demonstrate that the school is economically viable” and therefore it will close the school on June 30, 2018. This action brings to a sad conclusion a dark period of regulatory oversight by the board that began on March 12th of this year with an emergency meeting to approve the start of the charter revocation process. The teleconference had been hastily arranged only the previous night. What followed was a pubic hearing for the school on April 5th during which WMST revealed it had successfully accomplished numerous miraculous steps to try and put its financial state back in order. At this session the school asked for a two-week delay on a final decision while it tried to secure an additional $500,000.
No word was ever uttered as to whether the delay was approved. But then at the PCSB’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting on April 23rd, a final vote was taken to close the charter, which would be reversed if a pending bank loan could be ratified by 6 p.m. on the 24th and a suitable fiscal plan could be constructed within the next 72 hours. Again, there was no communication the next day or for days that followed.
What did come to light during this period, however, was that the PCSB was not as transparent as it should have been about when it realized this school could not pay its bills. On April 26th, Rachel Cohen, writing for the Washington City Paper, used a Freedom of Information Request to determine that the charter board’s staff had recommended that WMST be placed on a Financial Management Plan in June 2017. Almost a year ago, in May 2017, they had first uncovered that the charter had a severe cash flow problem.
The school was never placed on the plan, apparently because the charter board’s executive director Scott Pearson thought that WMST would borrow against the equity it had in its permanent facility if it ran into desperate situations. On April 11th, when Mr. Pearson was asked about the sudden problems at the charter when testifying in front of Councilmember David Grosso, Education Committee Chairman, he elected not to go into detail about what the PCSB knew about the school’s budget and when it knew it. He represented the crisis as requiring a more conservative approach to the board’s charter school financial early warning system. A short time later, Ms. Cohen’s story broke.
It took a full week to learn whether WMST had pulled out another last minute extraordinary accomplishment and had secured the $500,000 loan. But this is all now history. The PCSB will assist families in finding new schools for WMST pupils for next year and will cover any necessary funds to make sure the school can continue operating until the end of the term.
Today is the last day parents can enroll their children through My School DC for the 2018 to 2019 school year.