In a move perfectly suited for the cold December weather, last night the D.C. Public Charter School Board voted unanimously to begin the process to close Options Public Charter School. The move essentially takes Christmas away from 386 students, 65 percent of which live in Wards 7 and 8, 65 percent of which are classified as having disabilities, with 75 percent of this group designated at Level 4, the highest level of special needs.
The PCSB asserts the decision is a result of being required to follow the legal rules. According to the Washington Post's Emma Brown, "staff states that the [School Reform Act] law doesn't allow for discretion in cases of financial mismanagement." The ruling seems particularly static for a body that operates in such a dynamic environment.
Of course, there appears to have been significant financial mismanagement at the school. It is alleged that $3 million in public money was diverted from the charter to companies founded by the school's leadership. Ms. Brown details new allegations today about the way Options handled Medicare billing. However, as the court-appointed Receiver Josh Kern pointed out in a letter to the PCSB these problems have been corrected with controls put in place to prevent them from every happening again.
In fact, reading Mr. Kern's report makes clear that although the name of the school has not changed everything else about it, from staffing, to special education services, to budgetary control, to overall management of the facility, has been drastically improved in an extremely short amount of time. Yes, there is more to be done, but it is clear that the charter has been reinvented.
So new schools will now have to be found for these children, many of whom were in attendance last night, due to no fault of their own. In disrupting the academic home for these students the PCSB takes no responsibility for the situation. Remember that last July the CHARM Report, compiled by the PCSB, OSSE, and the CFO that evaluated the financial health of charters, painted a positive picture of Options PCS. In addition, keep in mind that as a result of the problems associated with this school the authorizer is proposing stricter rules on reporting contracts and is increasing the information it requires from the facilities it oversees.
The PCSB staff states that they have been in contact with DCPS which is confident that it can serve the children that currently attend Options. During the meeting, Mr. Kern, according to Ms. Brown, "asked the board to be realistic about Options students' ability to find schools that can actually meet their needs." Sadly, we are about to embark on this path. Mr. Kern has said he will not challenge the verdict to revoke the charter.
Tomorrow evening the case of Arts and Technology PCS goes before the board.