D.C.’s charter school movement stuck in malaise

The most interesting part of last night’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board came at the beginning of the public session.  The city’s residents are slowly realizing that there is a short period at the top of the agenda where they have the opportunity to comment on the issue of their choice.  Yesterday, one individual who has been closely following the revocation proceedings of Washington Math Science and Technology PCS used her time to disparage the PCSB’s handling of the matter.  At the conclusion of her remarks executive director Scott Pearson announced that he was accepting “personal responsibility” for the debacle that was due to his “error in judgement” in not questioning the property value of the school’s permanent facility, and failing to obtain an independent appraisal. The building sold at a price which was approximately $3 million less than anticipated which sealed the charter’s economic demise.  Mr. Pearson did not offer a reason as to why the financial difficulties at the school were not revealed when his staff first discovered them in May 2017, a fact that was uncovered by the Washington City Paper’s Rachel Cohen after a Freedom of Information request.  It would be interesting to know what an acceptance of personal responsibility means exactly when it comes to the shuttering of a public high school.

There was no time for that detail as the board moved to its annual ritual of turning down applications for new charters. Bolt Academy PCS, Capital Village Academy PCS, and MECCA Business Learning Institute PCS were up for consideration. I thought that Capital Village should have been approved but this was not the assessment of the PCSB. Both this school and Bolt Academy were rejected with encouragement to refine their bids and come back twelve months from now. But it is extremely difficult to grasp the incentive to take this step after completing all the necessary paperwork, responding to comments from the PCSB staff, sitting for a capacity interview, and appearing at a fair for new schools.  No wonder there were only three groups seeking to open new schools this cycle.

Actually, it may be a blessing in disguise that they didn’t get the green light because then they would have to try and find space in which to operate.  We learned last week that Rocketship PCS is delaying for a year its plans to open a third campus in the nation’s capital, mostly due to the inability to find an affordable building.  This is the second major charter management organization, with KIPP DC PCS being the other one, whose expansion plans are being blocked because education leaders in this town have been unable or are unwilling to solve the charter school facility problem. Monday, at an excellent book forum at CityBridge Education discussing The Deepest Well by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, I learned that Washington Latin PCS has agreed to replicate. The charter of which I was once board chair apparently has a wait list of about 2,000 students.  However, don’t hold your breath waiting for a second site as the charter now enters the permanent facility hunt.

FOCUS’s executive director Irene Holtzman also spoke during the open comment period, offering an assessment that the board’s most recent proposed revisions to its Enrollment Ceiling Increase policy actually violate the School Reform Act.  Eagle Academy PCS also expressed concerns about this document. It’s nice that they care. It actually reminds me of the exciting old days when our local movement was being forged. Unfortunately, those days are long gone.



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