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Charter Advisory Board recommends revocation of Heritage Collegiate’s charter

The Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) kept a promise today and voted to recommend that Bertie’s Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy have its charter revoked. 

The board almost revoked the school’s charter back in June, but voted instead to set a list of stipulations which, if not met, would lead to the beginning of revocation proceedings. 

“Honestly, I’ve been on the Charter School Advisory Board ever since there’s been a Charter School Advisory Board, and I’ve never seen a school that has been in this bad of shape,” said board Vice Chair Steven Walker. 

Heritage opened in 2014 and was labeled as low performing by the state in 2015 and 2016. At the June CASB, the board extensively discussed problems with the school, including missing deadlines to submit audits, operating close to a financial deficit, and having a ratio of teachers versus other personnel at the school that was out of whack when compared to similar schools. 

The stipulations imposed by the board in June included that the school needed to complete its reporting requirements on deadline and needed to either add more board members to its governing board to meet statutory requirements or dissolve its board. The school had to also submit monthly budgetary and financial data, meet with the Charter School Advisory Board two more times, and reconcile its payroll information so that it was clear how many employees it actually had, as opposed to the number listed in its payroll. 

At today’s meeting, deadlines and finances were again a focus, but academics seemed to be the issue that put board members like Walker over the edge. 

“There is one F school in Bertie County, it’s Heritage Collegiate Charter Academy,” Walker said. “Children are not receiving an education at the school, and I think that’s one of my biggest concerns.” 

Also discussed were correction two Exceptional Children’s folders at the school required after a program compliance review by the state’s Exceptional Children Division. According to staff, the corrections were relatively minor, but despite the fact that the process of getting the corrections began in late 2016, as of today’s meeting, at least one correction still had not been made. 

The division advised the school that if it did not make the corrections by November, federal funding allotments would be withheld from the school. 

“If you showed up in my school and told me to fix a couple of folders, I’m going to do everything I can to get that done,” said board Chair Alex Quigley. 

He said that the school’s inability to fix the corrections was particularly striking given the list of stipulations the board had made on the school back in June. 

In addition, the board found out that Heritage has spent all of its state allotment with more than a month to go before it gets more money. 

“They will have to get through October and most of November with their local funds,” said Alexis Schauss, director of School Business Administration at the state Department of Public Instruction. “Without a huge turnaround of their financial situation, it is not looking in a positive light.” 

When asked how she intended for the school to survive until more cash comes from the state, Kashi Hall, the founding director of the school, said that it would use local funds and money from a loan. 

When Board member Joseph Maimone later asked Hall about the school’s financial situation again, Hall said that she knows how to make cuts, and indeed, had already made some. But she also claimed ignorance of the school’s overall situation. 

“I never knew how bad the financial situation was,” she said. 

When asked by Walker why the school should be kept open, Hall said that the school had been doing well, but the negative attention caused by Charter School Advisory Board scrutiny, had sent the school spiraling. 

She pointed out that the school went from an F to a D between years one and two. But she said that after the negative backlash, the school began to be perceived differently. She was told that there were former employees trying to get the state to shut the school down. 

Walker asked her if she was blaming the board for the school’s lack of achievement. 

“Parents were afraid, Staff was afraid. I did what I could to calm everyone,” she said. “The mindset of the staff and the scholars was not, in my opinion, where it needed to be going into testing. I do believe that was a contributing factor to the decrease in test scores.” 

The board also called up Gary Gardner, vice chair of the school’s board of directors, and grilled him about his awareness of what was happening at the school. 

Walker asked Gardner who really controlled the school, the board or Hall? 

“Are you a rubber-stamp board or are you a real board?” he asked. 

Gardner said the board was definitely in charge, though he said he was a little out of his depth when it comes to running a school. 

“I’m not an expert on school operations, but I saw a need and I thought that I could be of assistance,” Gardner said. 

Quigley told Gardner that the board is ultimately responsible for the school. Hall is an employee of the school. Hearing the situation, Quigley asked him how he felt, what he was thinking, and what his concerns were. 

“I’m sometimes a little bit concerned that some of the timeliness of the reports has been lacking,” Gardner responded, also saying that he had been pushing for the board to have a stronger hand in running the school.

Walker asked Gardner whether Hall’s responses to the CSAB raises concerns.  

“Does it bother you at all..that your school leader said I never knew how bad the financial situation was?” he asked Gardner. 

Gardner replied that yes, it did bother him. 

After questioning Gardner and Hall, the board went into closed session to discuss the school further. When members came out, they made a motion to recommend to the State Board that the school’s charter be revoked immediately. 

Before the final vote, Walker called the school “unsalvageable.”

Board member Alan Hawkes said he had pushed for the CSAB to take this action back in June. He said he wished they had. 

“I thought it was really big hearted of you all, bending over backward to be accommodating, but in my heart, I knew it would be the same old, same old,” he said. 

Before the board voted, Hall called from the crowd to say that she wanted to go through the appeals process. Quigley said that, if the board voted to recommend revocation, the matter would go before the State Board of Education in November. Based on the State Board’s decision, the school would then be able to initiate the appeal’s process. 

He then said to the rest of his CSAB members that he thought recommending revocation was the best course of action, and he said that voting unanimously would send a strong message to the State Board about where the CSAB stood. 

Again, Hall called out from the crowd asking the board to delineate which stipulations the school had failed to follow. 

Without answering her, Quigley called for a vote, and all CSAB members agreed to recommend revocation. 

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.