HCLA charter revoked

Published 11:47 am Monday, November 13, 2017

RALEIGH – The State Board of Education voted unanimously Nov. 1 to revoke the charter of Windsor-based Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy (HCLA), but the school is expected to appeal the decision.

“It’s always a sad day when we have to close a school,” said State Board Chair Bill Cobey, in an interview after the proceedings.

“Regardless of their vote, we take comfort in knowing that we have made a difference in our community,” said HCLA founding director Kashi Bazemore Hall, prior to the Board vote. “We are committed to stay even if we have to become an independent, private school seeking eligibility for opportunity scholarships.”

It was the first indication that the school might become private.

“If the SBE votes to revoke our charter today, I will immediately appeal their decision with the Office of Administrative Hearings,” Hall wrote on the HCLA Facebook page. “We will also contact the Office of Civil Rights to file a complaint in the way minority charter leaders are treated as part of this process. We are prepared to take this fight to court. This is far, far from over,” she wrote.

Several times this year the school has run afoul of the Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB). The school barely escaped charter revocation last June. Instead, the CSAB voted instead to set a list of stipulations which, if not met, would lead to revocation proceedings.

CSAB chairman Alex Quigley told the State Board the school had failed to meet deadlines to get information into the state, and it had even failed to submit on time its notice that it wanted to renew its charter.

“I believe they were the only school to miss that deadline,” he said.

He added that HCLA had over-projected its enrollment for this year, and, as a result, had spent its state allotted money for its actual enrollment with more than a month to go before more funds would arrive. The school projected it would have an average daily membership of 340 students and ended up with an unofficial count of 177 instead.

According to EducationNC.org, Heritage opened in 2014 and was labeled as low-performing by the state in 2015 and 2016. At the June CSAB meeting, the board 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 disproportionate 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.

In October, the school went before the CSAB again, but its problems persisted. At that meeting, the Board voted unanimously to recommend charter revocation to the State Board.

State Board of Education chairman William Cobey said he had been optimistic about the school previously.

“I personally had high hopes for it because it’s in a rural county…and we don’t have enough public charter schools out in rural areas,” he told EdNC. “But the facts are the facts.”

According to EdNC, Board members said they wrestled with their decision and did not take the revocation lightly.

Cobey praised the CSAB for its work with the school and for providing the state with the recommendation. Because of the appeal process, it’s hard to determine when HCLA will actually close, but it’s believed it will remain open through the 2017-18 school year.

Hall, after learning of the decision, took to Facebook once more defending the school and its practices.

“We simply asked the SBE (State Board of Education) to search for the facts. We did meet the stipulations provided by CSAB. We now have nine very engaged board members and we filed the nepotism report in a timely manner,” she wrote.

Hall went on to post that the school has a strong federal child nutrition program, and that despite the report, she challenged the low-performance numbers.

“We are a Title I School who moved from a F to a D from years one to two. We did not receive any visits from the Office of Charter Schools during year-two. When I inquired about this, we were told it was because we were a strong school. We had never been cited by the state for anything,” she wrote.

Hall also cited the revelations about Bertie County Schools’ current fiscal state in her post.

“The SBE has yet to fully inform citizens why it has allowed Bertie County Schools officials to get away with almost $2 million in misappropriated funds,” she writes. “We were formerly regarded as a “fiscally solvent school who [is] doing a lot with a little,” as she quoted Alexis Schauss, Department of Public Instruction Director of School Business Administration.

“We have had our due process rights trampled upon throughout this process,” Hall wrote. “I planned for seven years to bring this school to my hometown, as I sought to raise awareness about the need for “choice” in rural communities especially where poverty is a problem. We did not deserve this. I am appealing this case with the NC Office of Administrative Hearings to raise awareness about the lack of real evidence that exists to warrant losing our school.”

“Our charter has been revoked as a result of hearsay and lies…period,” she emphasized.

“We have dynamic scholars and parents who deserve better. We have teachers who are working hard every day, and they deserve better. I know our rights have been violated. I know we met all the stipulations. The only thing we did wrong was turn in our audit late…an audit that revealed that we had not one exception.

“We are making history and we are making a difference,” she noted. “Poverty does impact achievement, and we always predicted it would take about 5 years to get our scores up.”

Hall concluded her Facebook post seemingly more determined than ever to combat the recommendation.

“We will fight this fight,” she concluded. “First, for the scholars, teachers, staff and families that we serve daily; second, to ensure that no other minority charter leader experiences what we have here.”