Carrboro charter school renewed, 3 days before scheduled expiration

jalexander@newsobserver.comJune 27, 2014 

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The state has agreed to renew the charter for PACE Academy in Carrboro another three years while the school’s board addresses academic, financial and leadership issues.

HARRY LYNCH — hlynch@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— PACE Academy will keep its doors open after all, officials said Friday, three days before its charter was to expire.

The State Board of Education and the PACE Board of Directors agreed on a three-year renewal.

“We’re extremely excited as a school and community that we've been given a second chance (and the) ability to continue serving the students from Chapel Hill and Durham areas,” PACE Academy principal Rhonda Franklin said. “It’s been a difficult six or seven months. Unfortunately we lost some students, but we feel confident we'll be able to move forward.”

PACE Academy, a charter school in Carrboro that primarily serves students with disabilities, appealed to the state Office of Administrative Hearings Feb. 7, the day after the State Board of Education unanimously voted not to renew its charter when it was to expire on June 30.

After 10 years, PACE had financial problems, low graduation rates and tested poorly compared to students in the surrounding Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district, according to the state Office of Charter Schools.

The office has also questioned the school’s relationship with a basketball academy that sends most of its high school players to the school.

In its appeal, PACE claimed the board deprived them of property, “failed to use proper procedure,” and “acted arbitrarily or capriciously.” PACE officials also claimed that they were misled and not made aware of any problems with the school by the Office of Charter Schools until four days before the state charter school advisory board’s presentation that recommended their charter not be renewed.

“The presentation was 100 percent negative with no opportunity to defend (ourselves),” Franklin said then.

A report by the office said PACE failed to meet the 95 percent testing requirement of its students in multiple years (2010, and 2011) and a student enrollment audit revealed that the school claimed to have 169 students but only about half, 89, were present on the day the state visited. Forty-three were absent, 11 were in court and 26 were reportedly coming in later.

The settlement

The judge on the case, Don Overby, sent the case into mediation June 13.

In the settlement, PACE’s board agreed to correct the unresolved issues at a board retreat in August. PACE also agreed to expand its governing board to seven members and “demonstrate their leadership of the school.”

According to the settlement, the state department of public instruction must keep PACE informed of any deficiencies within the school or actions proposed to be taken against the school for violations of rules or laws.

PACE is also required to keep DPI informed of any updates.

In light of the settlement, PACE has agreed to dismiss the contested case it filed with the Office of Administrative Hearings.

The charter school's mission is to support students' academic growth, emotional development and professional readiness. More than half of PACE's students are considered exceptional children, meaning each has one or more disabilities.

Franklin said the school has been able to retain all of its staff.

“With the new renewal you're going to see a different level of energy in the school,” she said. We're going to be a lot more proactive in the community to let people know what PACE academy is about.”

Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1

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