|A Lansing charter school is in danger of closing, but charter advocates say it's not an indictment of the charter model|
By: Angela Wittrock
|May 09, 2013|
|Lansing’s Learn, Live, Lead (L3) Academy's authorizing contract is being pulled less than a year into its operations.
Bay Mills Community College officials announced Wednesday it was pulling its authorization for the school after the academy failed to comply with a number of contractual requirements, including opening several weeks late, missing deadlines for testing and failing to meet transparency requirements related to its budget.
The school opened in October. There are currently 78 students, grades K-6.
Buddy Moorehouse, a spokesman for the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, said it’s not unheard of for an authorizing agent like Bay Mills to end its contract with a school so quickly -- but it is unusual.
He said the action shows that charter school authorizers are committed to ensuring quality education through a rigorous oversight process.
“It’s such an isolated instance” that it’s not representative of the general population of charter schools, he said.
“It shows that the oversight process that’s in place works,” he said. “If an authorizer feels that a school isn’t performing, they’ll take corrective action.”
Moorehouse noted that since charters became legal in Michigan in 1994, authorizers have closed 60 schools. According to Charter School partners, there are more than 230 charter schools in Michigan.
But don’t take that to mean the charters don’t succeed, he said. Rather, it means the authorizers are committed to quality education and unafraid to hold underperforming schools accountable.
Compare that with traditional public schools, he said: essentially no public school districts have closed underperforming schools in that time.
Dr. Patrick Shannon, director of the Bay Mills Community College Charter Schools Office, said Bay Mills emphasizes quality, compliance and accountability over growth, and is unafraid to pull contracts when schools don't meet the grade.
Bay Mills currently authorized 43 academies in Michigan.
“Students have one chance to receive the kind of quality education that will serve them for a lifetime," he said Wednesday. "We cannot allow academies to continue to operate after they have failed to provide a quality educational experience.”
The L3 academy got off to a rough start, Shannon said.
The school missed deadlines from the get-go, from failing to get an occupancy permit to missing initial testing deadlines.
School should have started in August, Shannon said, but the occupancy permit issues delayed classes until October.
As a result, students missed several weeks of classroom instruction, and initial testing deadlines came and went without testing.
By November, Shannon was worried about the school.
He said he met with school officials to air his grievances about operations.
By December, field representatives for Bay Mills were worried, too.
Before the Newtown, Conn. school shootings, the representatives reported to Shannon that the school had safety issues -- they were convinced the environment was unsafe for students.
In December, Shannon informed the board he intended to suspend the school's operations, effective Jan.1.
School officials responded by resolving the safety issues, and Shannon decided to offer a one-time reprieve; the school got a second chance to prove itself.
But when more testing deadlines we missed, and enrollment dropped by more than 10 percent between the school’s first and second semester, Shannon decided that enough was enough.
“If a school can’t get it going well the first year, they’re going to continue to struggle,” he said.
“It’s better to let parents know now,” Shannon added, so they can pursue other enrollment options for the following school year.
Shannon said the school had other issues, too, with transparency reporting and questions over the school’s finances and viability.
Paula Cunningham is the chairperson of The Grace Foundation, a non-profit organization formed to operate the school.
She told MLive media partner WLNS-TV she was optimistic the school “will get picked up by another authorizer and it will be business as usual," she said.
“We're already in contact looking for other authorizers so that the school can stay open," said Cunningham.
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