D.C. Mayor Bowser withdraws two nominations to the D.C. Public Charter School Board

A recent Twitter Post which now has been deleted led to the challenging to uncover news that Mayor Muriel Bowser had nominated Lyon Rosario, a Ward 8 resident, to replace Dr. Darren Woodruff on the DC Public Charter School Board.  Dr. Woodruff’s term ended last July.  Ms. Rosario’s volunteer service was scheduled to conclude on February 24, 2022.

This selection seemed a bit odd.  According to Ms. Rosario’s four page resume submitted with the written announcement of the nomination, she is currently serving as a Drug and Alcohol Program Manager for the United States Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration in the nation’s capital.  She has held this position since 2014.  While her Curriculum Vitae appears extremely impressive, it centers completely around work in the U.S. Department of Transportation.  For example, she received a 2006 Secretary Team Award for Hurricane Katrina Response.  Ms. Rosario has a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from Brandeis University.

The nomination was apparently made on June 22, 2018 and then on September 26th it was withdrawn.

Research on the Ms. Rosario nomination led to information that another candidate for the PCSB had been put forth and then cancelled by the Mayor.  Also on June 22nd, Ms. Lea Crusey was nominated to fill the seat of Don Soifer, who relocated to Nevada last year to become the president of Nevada Action for School Options.  Mr. Soifer is still included as being on the PCSB on the organization’s website, but then too is Dr. Woodruff.  Her term would have been co-terminus with Ms. Rosario’s.  Ms. Crusey is listed as a Ward 6 resident and is the founder and chief executive officer of Allies for Educational Equity, a group started in 2017.  Before coming into this role, according to resume accompanying her nomination, she was a senior advisor to the United States Department of Education for about a year as an appointee of President Obama.  Before joining the Department of Education she was a senior advisor to Democrats for Education Reform.  She was also once a teacher through Teach for America.

Ms. Crusey received a Bachelor of Arts in Government and History from Claremont McKenna College and a Masters in Public Policy from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.

On September 28, 2018, her nomination was withdrawn by the Mayor.  No explanations are provided for the rescinding of these candidates for the PCSB.

Closure of Sustainable Futures PCS drives D.C. charter board to alter procedures around new school openings

At last evening’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board deputy director Naomi Rubin DeVeaux delivered a heartfelt report on changes in procedures the organization is considering in the aftermath of Sustainable Futures PCS’s decision to relinquish its charter after only one year of operation.  The alternative high school charter was approved in 2016 and had an enrollment of approximately 46 students.  It shuttered its doors last June.  The ideas obviously came to the board after much thought as Scott Pearson, PCSB’s executive director, stated that there has been “a lot of soul searching, examination, and self-reflection,” that has been going among the staff regarding the closure.  It was clear that the board is viewing this event as a failure and is taking responsibility, perhaps overly so, for the negative outcome.  You can view the presentation here.

Ms. DeVeaux explained that once a new school is approved there are almost always conditions placed on the charter that need to be fulfilled before it is allowed to open.  She revealed that some of these are basic, such as securing a facility and the need to incorporate as a 501(c)(3).  In other cases, Ms. DeVeaux detailed, there are changes to the curriculum or the educational plan for special education students that are required due to board concerns.  In these instances, sometimes schools will negotiate over the final form of these changes and the implementation deadlines.  While in the past the staff has made decisions on their own as to whether to accept, for instance, a delay in meeting the new requirements, the deputy director opined that these modifications should probably go back to the board for approval.  In the case of Sustainable Futures, Ms. DeVeaux recalled that almost all the dates around meeting conditions slipped.

The PCSB deputy director also observed that the planning year, the time between approval to open by the board and the first day of school, is tough for new schools because there is so much that has to be accomplished.  Therefore, the charter board is going to change its calendar to move up the application process.  While new submissions are now made in March and approved by the board in May, beginning in the year 2020 applications will be due in January with decisions made in March.  Ms. DeVeaux remarked that this step will help significantly with schools being ready for common lottery applications in November.

Another modification that the board is considering is around the founding members.  In a new school’s application key individuals are identified.  Ms. DeVeaux opined that there has to be some assurance that this group will be in place when the school opens.  She feels that if there is significant turnover of key personnel then the new body should be approved by the board.  The PCSB deputy director explained that in the case of Sustainable Futures, only the original board chair and founder remained.  Moreover, while the PCSB staff meets with key individuals of a new school about once a month before the charter opens, Ms. DeVeaux said that the new charter’s board should be included in these sessions at least on a quarterly basis.

Finally, Ms. DeVeaux believes that the PCSB should be much more active in setting new charters’ enrollment levels.  She revealed that many have lofty targets for its initial year of teaching and she wants the board to restrict this number in case the schools run into difficulties.  She added that she was glad that this is exactly what transpired in the case of Sustainable Futures, which limited the number of students impacted by the school’s decision to close.

All of these recommendations appear to make logical sense and are obviously coming from people who care exceedingly deeply about the scholars under their care.

We all need to look in the mirror when it comes to D.C. charter school replication

The Twitter response to yesterday’s article “Pearson vs. Great Public Schools” came quickly and furiously from Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, as I knew it would:

has a dead simple process for replicating Tier One schools. Mark, you have served on the boards of TWO Tier One schools neither of which has requested to replicate. Next time you wonder why we don’t have more Tier One seats, perhaps you should look in the mirror.”

I spent six years on the board of governors of Washington Latin PCS, the only Performance Management Framework Tier 1 school with which I was personally involved, although I also served on the board of the Cesar Chavez PCS for Public Policy and was a founding board member of the William E. Doar, Jr. PCS for the Performing Arts which is now named City Arts and Prep PCS.  I was the board chair of Doar for four years and board chair at Latin for a couple of years when it acquired and renovated the former DCPS Rudolph Elementary School as its permanent location.  As an individual who has blogged about charters in the nation’s capital for almost 10 years, I made a commitment to those schools for whom I volunteered that I would not discuss board matters in this space.  Therefore, I cannot respond directly to Mr. Pearson’s remarks.

However, I can say this:  when it comes to increasing the number of seats of high performing charters we owe it to our families and community to do whatever we can to make this a reality.  And I’m not talking about this occurring decades from now.  I mean now, today, or if not today, tomorrow.  It is terribly unjust that in the year 2018 zip codes are still determining the quality of the education children are receiving in the nation’s capital, and that parents who desire to get their offspring into those charter schools that are best will have a greater probability of having them, when they are older, admitted to Harvard University than to gain a spot here.

If we believe with every cell in our hearts and our heads, as Joseph E. Robert, Jr. stated on numerous occasions, that access to a good education for our kids is a civil right, then we need to view the shortage of quality seats as a crisis.  When a public policy crisis occurs usually there are heroes that emerge to forge answers.

My conversation with Mr. Pearson continued overnight.  “The biggest incentive is a building,” he wrote. “I don’t control that and has not released any city buildings so far, though she has boosted the facilities allowance. What other incentives do you have in mind that are a) in PCSB’s control and b) don’t involve lowering standards?”

I can think of many, although I’m afraid Mr. Pearson will claim that these solutions lower the academic bar.  But here I go.

First, I would consider granting a new campus a two-year exemption from PMF tiering, doubling the one-year break it currently receives.  Second, I would give a year off to the entire CMO from the scoring for 12 months when it decides to replicate.  Third, the PCSB should review all of the requirements for reporting by its schools and drastically simplify them as much as possible.  Fourth, I would rewrite the rules for opening new schools to make it simpler and to reduce barriers to entry.  Fifth, I would take a look at the guidelines under which a school can replicate to increase the pool of charters that could qualify to take this step.  Sixth, I would demand a resolution to the charter school funding inequity issue compared to the revenue DCPS receives on an annual basis.

Lastly, Mr. Pearson, I would use my position to talk to every politician, non-profit, philanthropist, developer, and business leader to finally solve the charter school facility crisis.  There are a ton of smart people in this town and we can and will figure this out.

We only live once.  Let’s spend those hours giving our children the chance in life that they deserve.





Pearson vs. great public schools

My attention was grabbed this morning by a commentary that appeared in the New York Daily News last week entitled “De Blasio vs. Great Public Schools” by Jenny Sedlis and Derrell Bradford, who are both associated with Success Academy Public Charter Schools.  In their piece they argue that Mayor de Blasio’s legacy of overseeing the city’s schools will be that there are many parents wanting quality seats for their children who cannot obtain them due to a capacity shortage.  They write:

“When we look back decades from now on Mayor de Blasio’s tenure running New York City schools, one theme will emerge:  There are way more children and families who want great schools than there are great schools for them.

More than a million kids are fighting for a number of great schools that they can’t all fit into.  There’s no excellent school -district or charter- that doesn’t have a waiting list.  Stuyvesant, Beacon, Success Academies:  All these schools have more kids who want to get in than can.”

The article goes on to accuse Mr. de Blasio of poor treatment of Eva Moskowitz, the founder and chief executive officer of Success Academy.

While we do not have a mayor here in D.C. who is actively opposing a dynamic school leader, we do have the same problem with a lack of space in the city’s leading charter schools.  For the school term that just started there is a reported 11,317-student wait list for admission to charters.  We have talked about this topic before, but just to point out a few of the greatest in-demand schools, they include Creative Minds International PCS with 1,574 students seeking admission; D.C. Bilingual PCS with 1,292 students on the wait list; Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS – Brookland Campus with 1,827 pupils on the wait list, and Inspired Teaching Demonstration PCS with 1,071 kids trying to get in. The list literally does go on and on.

So I’m sitting at my desk wondering if decades from now this will be the legacy of Scott Pearson as executive director of the Public Charter School Board.  Many people have spoken about the strengthening of  school accountability under Mr. Pearson.  Almost all of the lowest performing Tier 3 schools have been closed.  Others have mentioned the significant professional improvement in the operation of the board through more standardized policies, procedures, and practices.  Charter authorizers across the country look at the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework as the gold standard for the manner in which charters should be benchmarked against each other.  All of these accomplishments are to be commended.

But what about the tremendous frustration that parents in this town face every year when they enter the My DC school lottery?  They literally want to pull their hair out because they cannot get their children into the school of their choice.  I really don’t understand why these people stay here as residents.

So what is Mr. Pearson doing about this issue?  Well, the board is allowing some schools to replicate and increase their enrollment caps.  But as you can see the demand is so much higher than the supply.  What about making it easier for schools to grow?  How about figuring out how to provide them with buildings?  Has he looked into simplifying the application process for new schools and providing some incentives for groups to submit them?

It is fantastic to be known as the group that developed one of the strongest charter school portfolios in the nation.  But if kids cannot get access to them, then what good have you really done?

The mystery of lethargic D.C. charter academic performance

The report card came in on Thursday afternoon in the way of the 2018 PARCC assessment scores and the findings were frankly anemic.  It was actually a sad day.  As the Washington Post’s Perry Stein reported:

“D.C. Public Schools outperformed charter schools on the 2018 PARCC test. Overall, the traditional school system showed greater improvement over 2017 and had a higher percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations on the tests.”

How in the world could DCPS, dysfunctional from the loss of its most recent Chancellor, embroiled in a high school graduation controversy, and reeling from accusations of residency fraud at one of its most prominent institutions, top the collective standardized test scores of D.C.’s charter schools?  After all these are the entities that are free from the constraints of the regular schools to hire their own staff, set many of their own operating rules, design the curriculum, and establish their own goals.  They are provided freedom to innovate in return for being accountable for their results to the DC Public Charter School Board.  In order to reach kids that traditional schools have not, almost all of them have longer school days, smaller class sizes, and describe themselves as extremely tight-knit communities.  Charters are recognized as paying particular close attention to the needs of their students and families because their revenue stream is dependent upon how many children are sitting in its classrooms each October.  With an ecosystem like this in place for over 20 years, and with the exception of one campus a lack of teacher union representation, these nonprofits should be soaring way above the clouds academically compared to the bureaucratic DCPS.  What is going on?

Well I think I know the answer.  We have a problem with the way we are conducting our local movement. Here are the issues.

First, the charter school facility problem is proving to be intractable.  We are so fortunate to have Building Hope and other like-minded groups here and banks that now actually have some understanding of charter school finance.  However, it is still, after two decades, much too difficult for a charter to obtain a permanent home.  In fact, the task is almost impossible.  The hunt for a building is a tremendous distraction from educating our scholars, and is restricting the replication of high performing schools that could help more kids.  I do not accept that with so many smart people invested in this cause that a solution to this issue cannot be found.

Second, we desperately have to rethink the PCSB mantra that charters must be “Tier 1 on day 1.”  The pressure to be atop the Performance Management Framework rankings is driving schools to what Jeanne Allen, the founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform calls “isomorphism.”  Ms. Allen defines isomorphism as “the process that forces one unit in a population to resemble others who face similar environmental conditions.”  The phenomenon is resulting in charters looking more and more like the traditional schools already failing our children, and is causing them to shy away from true innovation.

The PCSB must be a true partner in reversing this trend.  Some crucially important steps are needed such as:

  • Holding off PMF tiering a new school for two years instead of one,
  • Giving CMOs that replicate a one-year hiatus for the entire system and not just the new campus,
  • Significantly reducing the reporting requirements of the schools it oversees,
  • Simplifying the new school application process, and
  • Redesigning the PMF to emphasize student growth over absolute test scores.

Charters enroll some of the most difficult to teach pupils.  Forty-eight percent of the kids in these schools are classified as at-risk.  Many live in poverty.  Almost all enter these schools years behind their age-appropriate grade level.  Yet, with all of these mighty challenges, some leaders are stating that it appears that the PCSB is running their schools in place of themselves.

Charters are really at a critical juncture.  As evidence for my conclusion consider that just last week, Democracy Prep PCS, which is located in Ward 8 and enrolls 656 students with a wait-list of 111, announced it was abandoning the District rather than face a five-year charter review.  This is exactly the opposite of what our city needs.  We desperately want high performing charter networks moving into the nation’s capital, not the other way around.  But they don’t want to come.  It is too difficult to find a place in which to operate and the regulation is overbearing.

There is no time to waste.  The times call for exceedingly bold actions.




Darren Woodruff receives Exceptional Service Award

Last week at the July monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board, past chairman Dr. Darren Woodruff received the organization’s Exceptional Service Award.  This was Dr. Woodruff’s last meeting as his term has come to an end.  He has served on the DC PCSB for ten years in the role of board member, vice chairman and chairman.  While he was head of the board, I interviewed Dr. Woodruff on three separate occasions.  I found him to be exceptionally kind, transparent, and passionately enthusiastic about a charter school movement that now teaches 43,340 pupils or 47.5 percent of all public school students in the nation’s capital.  The following are the remarks that Scott Pearson, DC PCSB executive director, offered when presenting Dr. Woodruff with his award.

DC PCSB’s award for exceptional service recognizes individuals who through volunteer effort, have made substantial contributions over a sustained period of time to DC PCSB, and by doing so, have made it possible for students in the District of Columbia to access quality educational choices.

In recognition of and appreciation for his significant contributions to DC PCSB, we present Darren, with our highest award.  Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine an individual more deserving of this award.  Darren served as Vice Chairman of the board from 2013 – 2015 and chairman of the Board from 2015 – 2018 and contributed 10 years of tireless service to the Board.

Darren’s impact on this board has been profound.  Since Darren joined the Board, public charter school enrollment has grown from 25,732 students to 43,340 students.  More importantly, overall public school enrollment has climbed by 20,400 students.  Indeed, the turnaround of a 50-year slide in enrollment almost perfectly coincides with Darren’s arrival on this board.  There is no question in my mind that he deserves some of the credit for this.

But more than numbers, Darren was committed to quality.  Darren brought to this board the perspective and personal commitment that comes from having children in our schools.  He knew what he expected for his children, and wanted nothing less for all of the families of Washington DC.   It was during Darren’s tenure that we launched the performance management framework, raising the bar for quality.  And Darren never flinched from closing low-performing schools when necessary, the toughest but most essential role of an authorizer.

Darren’s legacy on this board will always be centered on his commitment to equity. Bringing his research and professional background in special education and the impact of poverty on school-age children, Darren led this board to redouble its focus on disparities in performance and discipline rates along race and income lines.  With expulsions down 80% and suspensions down by half, the DC charter sector is a considerably more humane and inclusive place thanks to Darren.

Finally, board service is a lot more than attending these monthly meetings.  Staff is constantly asking board members to meet with school leaders, attend graduations, represent us at events.  Darren always said yes.  He worked incredibly hard for this Board and the schools and students we represent.   And he always did that work with a personal gentleness that was a model for us all.  In ten years of difficult, contentious issues, Darren never raised his voice, never showed rancor, and treated all with respect.  We couldn’t have asked for more in a board member.

Rocketship PCS on the hot seat at last night’s charter board meeting

As I reported regarding May’s meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board, it is becoming clear that often the most significant portion of these monthly sessions involves the public comment period that comes before the regular business section of the agenda. Participants appearing before the board are supposedly given a couple of minutes to speak but in reality there is no time limit. Therefore, anyone with a beef regarding D.C.’s nationally recognized charter school movement has an open opportunity to air their grievances for as long as they want to talk and this is exactly what they are doing.

Yesterday, it was Rocketship PCS’s turn to bear the brunt of citizen anger. The outpouring was prompted by a proposal by the brand-new Statesman College Preparatory Academy for Boys PCS, formally named North Star College Preparatory Academy for Boys, to begin its first year of operation by co-locating its facility with Rocketship Legacy Prep PCS on Massachusetts Avenue Southeast. A public hearing on whether Statesman will be permitted to begin its first year serving children at this site is not scheduled until this coming Friday at 4:00 p.m. which is in itself a highly inconvenient time for a function of this type, but this fact is only a technicality. It was as if an approaching battle prompted people to prepare for their defense and their protection on Monday night was the English language.

Individual after individual went on the attack against Rocketship and specifically its new campus in Ward 7. The remarks went on for about an hour. To save you the time of listening to the proceedings I will summarize them as the criticism that has whirled around the expansion of this charter management organization since it came to town in 2014. Citizens feel that the school has not engaged with local residents before entering their communities and has ignored their opinions while treating them as if they are irrelevant bystanders to its plans. Complaints even included the specific location of trash dumpsters and the cutting down of trees.

In fact, the DC PCSB is having its own difficulties with Rocketship. Yesterday’s supporting documentation regarding the charter’s decision to delay opening its third campus contains the following narrative:

“This is the school’s third campus postponement since DC PCSB approved Rocketship PCS’s charter on November 3, 2014. While the school was originally scheduled to open its first campus in SY 2015-2016, Rocketship PCS requested a one-year postponement, resulting in Rocketship PCS – Rise Academy opening in SY 2016-2017.

In preparation for its second campus, Rocketship PCS provided notification to DC PCSB on November 21, 2016 of its intent to open Rocketship PCS – Legacy Prep in SY 2017-2018 at a permanent site in Ward 7. However, the school was unable to obtain necessary permits to complete construction before the start of SY 2017-2018. As a result, on June 19, 2017, Rocketship PCS returned to DC PCSB to obtain urgent approval to operate at two temporary facilities for part of SY 2017-2018, until its permanent site was ready for operation in early January 2018.

Each time that Rocketship PCS has postponed opening one of its campuses or changed a campus location last-minute, the students and families enrolled at those have been affected. Most recently, approximately 22 students who were enrolled at Rocketship PCS’s Ward 5 campus through the DC common lottery were left without a school placement for the upcoming school year when Rocketship PCS announced in May that it will not open the Ward 5 campus until SY 2019-2020. (Of these, 17 were students in grades K-2, and 5 were students in grades PK3-PK4.) To help families find an alternative placement quickly, most PK3-PK4 students were placed at AppleTree PCS at Perry Street, while students in grades K-2 were provided the option to attend either Rocketship PCS’s Rice Academy or Legacy Prep. The school reports that Rocketship PCS helped 21 of these students find a suitable placement for SY 2018-2019, and only one student received an offer that was deemed unsatisfactory to the parent.

Over the past three years, DC PCSB has received several community complaints regarding the school’s lack of community engagement, which played a significant role in the issues the school faced when trying to open its second campus. Parents have also understandably complained about the inconvenience caused by delayed openings and changes in location. Thus, DC PCSB staff wants assurance from Rocketship PCS that in the immediate future the school will increase its community engagement and plan carefully for any future campus openings to ensure it maintains a sufficient timeline.”

During the period that Rocketship was before the board discussing its latest campus fiasco in Ward 5, it was revealed that its Washington Regional Director Jacque Patterson is no longer with the CMO. I cannot help but wonder if his departure is associated with the school’s problems integrating into this city.

There was one bright spot last night. Relatively new board member Naomi Shelton is beginning to show real leadership of this body. Her thoughtful comments were direct and heartfelt. She instantly connected with an inhospitable crowd. Here is someone to keep our eyes on.

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.



Washington Math Science and Technology PCS will close June 30th

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.



D.C. charter board not responsible for financial problems at Washington Math Science and Technology PCS

Yesterday, in stellar reporting by the Washington City Paper’s Rachel Cohen, it was revealed that the DC Public Charter School Board knew almost a year ago that there were serious financial issues at Washington Math Science and Technology Public Charter School.  Through a public records request of electronic messages to and from the PCSB’s executive director Scott Pearson on the issue of WMST’s balance sheet, she discovered the following:

“According to the emails, two PCSB school finance specialists, Mikayla Lytton and Mohammad Bashshiti, met with WMST’s head of school, N’Deye Diagne, and its business manager, Mark Addae, in May 2017 to discuss the school’s financial situation. Among other things, they talked about how between 2015 and 2017, WMST exceeded $704,000 in revenue loss as student enrollment declined, while their expenses grew by $440,000.

On June 15, 2017, Lytton, who no longer works with the PCSB, emailed Diagne and Addae writing, ‘As we discussed over the phone earlier today and as I hope you understood from our [May] meeting, we are very concerned with the school’s financial status and projections.’ Lytton wrote that the PCSB would like to work with the school to develop a ‘Financial Corrective Action Plan,’ which sets specific targets to improve a school’s financial health.”

The Financial Corrective Action Plan was never developed.  This eventually led to the highly unusual emergency meeting on March 12th, which was only announced the evening before it took place.  It was at this session that the charter revocation proceedings against the school were put in motion.

The board never mentioned that it was aware of the cash flow issues at the school as early as May 2017.  In testimony before the D.C. Council’s Education Committee earlier this month, that I don’t honestly feel is unfair to now characterize as misleading, Mr. Pearson was asked by Chairman Grosso why the difficulties at the school were not uncovered earlier.  The PCSB executive director replied that the board has early warning systems that have worked in the past but that his organization did not take a conservative enough approach to this charter’s financial reports.  He added that a more conservative review of the fiduciary books of the schools it oversees has now been implemented.  In her piece Ms. Cohen includes a communication Mr. Pearson sent to his senior staff and board members last March in which he admits, “I did not act on it aggressively enough because I believed that the school’s building had appreciated significantly and so in a worst case they could borrow against the building equity (as Ideal PCS just did).”

All of this speaks to a severe lack of transparency by the PCSB, something Mr. Pearson stated emphatically at the same hearing is a guiding value at his place of employment.  This disregard for providing the public with information continues to this day.  On Monday, April 23rd the board voted to close WMST at the end of the school year, a decision which would be reversed if a pending loan of $500,000 by United Bank to the charter was consummated within 24 hours and a valid financial corrective action plan was submitted within three days.  We are now almost a week away from these proceedings and no update about the status of the school has been released.

However, while the manner in which the board is operating is highly troubling, the difficulties that this charter finds itself in are no one’s fault but its own.  WMST should have been aware long ago that it was running out of money, which then would have led to actions to raise revenue and reduce expenses to correct the situation.  The whole mess points to a tremendous governance failure by the charter’s board of directors.  This is not the fault of the DC Public Charter School Board.

Charters love to talk about their strong desire for autonomy and defiantly rail against efforts by the PCSB to increase oversight and regulation.   But if being left alone is something schools want, then they better be excellent stewards of public funding.