State looking into charter school’s involvement with basketball program

jalexander@newsobserver.comFebruary 3, 2014 

— The N.C. Office of Charter Schools is looking into a struggling charter school’s involvement with a for-profit club basketball team whose coach says it is just trying to help student-athletes “get to the next level.”

Director of the Office of Charter Schools Joel Medley sent a letter to PACE Academy’s school principal, Rhonda Franklin, and board of directors Chairwoman Sylvia Franklin noting that the Bull City Prep Academy lists the charter school as a sponsor and also as staff on the academy’s website.

The office also noticed that some of the players attend PACE and wanted to know more about the relationship between the charter school and the basketball academy, which has a high school team and a post-grad team.

“I cannot comment about what may or may not be occurring at PACE Academy with its relationship with Bull City Prep,” Medley said. “We have to receive their response in order to know and understand what is occurring at the charter school.”

However, Medley said PACE’s situation resembles another charter school his office is investigating, Quality Education Academy in Winston-Salem, for possibly attempting to recruit top basketball players from across the nation.

Charter schools were designed to give parents in North Carolina more choices for their children’s education.

The office’s letter asks PACE 12 questions, including whether the school is housing these students and whether PACE is part of the N.C. High School Athletic Association.

In an interview, Franklin, the principal, answered “no” to both questions.

Under scrutiny

PACE Academy, which opened in 2004 in Carrboro, is under scrutiny by the state Charter School Advisory Board, which will decide whether to renew its charter. In a meeting last month, the board recommended that two schools not have their charters renewed. PACE was one of those schools.

The charter, which serves about 160 students in grades 9 through 12, had noncompliance issues, low academic performance and serious financial problems, according to a Dec. 10 presentation to the advisory board.

Franklin said she hopes the Office of Charter Schools is not targeting PACE.

“I understand the reasoning behind the questions, but then it takes another turn when we did not go out and actively recruit these students,” Franklin said. “At no time did we advertise basketball. PACE has nothing to do with Bull City Prep Academy.”

Franklin said she asked the academy’s athletic director and coach, Darryl Harris, to remove the charter school’s name from its website when she learned it was there.

“There is no partnership,” she said.

Nine players

Nine of the 11 players on Bull City Prep’s high school team attend PACE, Harris said.

Harris, a Durham native, said he houses seven out-of-state student-athletes whose parents have awarded him guardianship so their children can develop their basketball skills. The out-of-state students come from New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and two are from Nigeria.

Harris said he acts as a parent for those seven student-athletes and that he only sends his kids to PACE like any other parent would send their kids to a school.

PACE and Bull City Prep “have nothing to do with one another,” he said. “We don’t have a relationship as far as financial. My kids are in this district, and I enroll them there.”

The academy’s responses to the state’s questions are due Friday.

“We have prepared a response for the Office of Charter Schools that will hopefully ease all minds,” Franklin said.

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

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