Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2007 | Spending scandals brought down Children’s Conservation Academy, a City Heights charter school shuttered in 2007, only two years after it opened. A year earlier, A. Phillip Randolph Leadership Academy dissolved, with questions swirling around its finances. Its closure echoed that of Jola Community Charter School, a girls’ charter that sunk two months after opening in 2005.
These schools and two other closed charters owe more than $300,000 to San Diego Unified School District in unpaid fees and property taxes. None have repaid the district. School staff doubts they ever will.
Closed Schools, Open Tabs
Charter schools are intended to enjoy greater flexibility, but also greater accountability, a trade-off meant to spur creativity and experimentation. School districts can revoke a school’s charter or refuse to renew it if the school strays from its charter, a document that lays out the expectations and governance of each unique school.
But while charters can be snuffed, ending experiments gone wrong, the closures aren’t painless. In San Diego, shuttered charters still owe thousands to the school district and the state in unpaid fees. Public schools rarely recover those funds unless a charter director is prosecuted for a crime, such as fraud, and forced to repay the district. Ordinary debts go unpaid.
Nor does closure — or the threat of it — guarantee accountability, critics say. When fiscal problems crop up, district staffers say they lack the power to halt misspending, and don’t learn about issues until it’s too late. Closure is both a last resort, they say, and their only resort.