by Max Brantley
The Little Rock Urban Collegiate Public Charter School's unsuccessfully defended its charter before the state Board of Education this afternoon. The board voted 7-0 to immediately revoke the charter and help the children move to other schools.
For the first half of the year, it staffed and spent for a 600-student school, while enrolling several hundred fewer. Department financial analysts said the outlook for the school digging out of its financial hole was not good. Optimistically, it faced a $253,000 deficit at year end.
Board member Sam Ledbetter wondered how the school had continued to report a 600-student enrollment when it enrolled fewer than 300.
The school is for boys only. It aims to reach an at-risk population. School officials said they'd taken a number of steps to bring the school into compliance.
Several parents made emotional pleas for the school and testified to benefits their sons had received.
Commissioner Tom Kimbrell said the department was not comfortable with the school's plan — fund-raisers, grants, a line of credit — to balance the books this year. He said there were "grave concerns" about continuation next year. He recommended immediate revocation of the charter and a transfer of the students to other schools.
The Board adopted a motion to that effect, which prompted an unhappy outcry from school staff and parents.
"Where will these children go?" a mother asked angrily after the board voted. A Board member said the school's failings were not its fault, but the fault of lack of good advice in response to questions.
In the chaos after the vote, school board member Ann Hoy rushed to the microphone to declare that the school had not been given due process. Board chair Naccaman Wilson responded that "there is no way we can allow the school to accumulate debt," admonished them that the vote had been taken and it was time to let the board continue its business. "It's over," he said.
Afterwards, Hoy said, "I felt like we were not heard," and said she thought the state board had made up its mind before the meeting. "If the board believed in this school" it would have given it probation, she said.
Jackie Jackson, spokesman for the school, had blamed the school's accountant for not keeping the school informed of its financial situation and not making reports to the the department's charter office. She attributed the low enrollment to a misunderstanding on the part of some parents who thought they were enrolling their boys in an alternative school and pulled them out.
After the vote, a deeply disappointed Jackson said the school hadn't gotten the same treatment as other charters, saying some had been given time to clear up financial problems. She also noted that the board had allowed the Osceola Communication, Arts and Business School to operate until the end of the term, though it, too, had its charter revoked in the hearing prior to UCPC's. OCABS was a charter designed to get drop-outs back into school.