Board to close charter school

Published April 25, 2007

LAND O'LAKES - The Language Academy charter school ran out of borrowed time Tuesday as the Pasco School Board decided to shut the financially troubled school once the academic year ends.

The board first threatened to close the school last summer amid reports that the school was running a deficit and was not likely to pay all its bills through the year. Language Academy officials offered several plans and made several personnel changes to deal with the problems.

But perhaps emblematic of the school's woes, the check for a key donation was voided before the school could cash it. And it just could not get out of its hole. Board members expressed dismay at having to make their unanimous decision.

"I kept hoping and hoping that things would work out there," vice chairwoman Kathryn Starkey said. "I think providing this type of environment is so important."

But her worries about the financial situation carried her vote. She was not alone.

"I'm afraid the history of the Language Academy sort of dictates my decision here tonight. Financially it has been a shambles since the beginning," said board member Frank Parker. "They have a contract with us and it requires them to be fiscally responsible, and they have not done that."

That is not acceptable, chairwoman Marge Whaley added.

"By law we are charged that if a school is even $1 in debt, we cannot allow that," Whaley said. "As a board we are responsible for that to the governor. I wish that you had a better chance. But holding bake sales is not going to hold your school together."

The Language Academy can appeal the board's decision to the state Board of Education. School representatives who spoke to the board did not say what they planned to do before leaving the boardroom.

That was not the only charter school issue the board had to consider.

The Athenian Academy had asked to expand to include a sixth-grade class, which would mean increasing the total number of students the school is allowed from 180 to 244. The board wanted the first-year school to move more slowly, though board members agreed they also didn't want to hurt the handful of kids who are moving from fifth to sixth grade.

About 25 parents and students showed up in support of the expansion.

In the end, the board voted to send the matter back to the staff for additional review. The Athenian Academy is not going to expand for now, but it might be able to later.

The Richard Milburn Academy, another charter school, chose not to pursue a contract renewal with the district this spring, saying the district was not supportive of charter schools.