CARBORRO — The State Board of Education is expected to vote Thursday not to renew a struggling charter school, the director of the state’s Office of Charter Schools said Wednesday.
Last month, PACE Academy, which opened in 2004, was one of two charter schools the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board recommended not be renewed. PACE, with about 160 students in grades 9 through 12, had financial problems, low graduation rates and tested poorly compared to students attending the surrounding Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district. The office has also questioned the school’s relationship with a basketball academy that sends most of its high school players to the school.
“We want to see highest-of-quality charter schools in North Carolina, legal compliance, board performance, financial integrity and academy,” said Joel Medley, director of the Office of Charter Schools. “These are not easy decisions and not taken lightly. But a unanimous decision of the advisory board says a lot.”
Medley said PACE will have 60 days to appeal with the Office of Administrative Hearings.
In 2012, a charter school in Morehead City appealed and the decision was overturned. However, the state board is expected to vote again Thursday to not renew the charter, now called Coastal Academy for Technology and Science.
PACE, whose mission is to support students’ academic growth, emotional development and professional readiness, said comparing its test scores to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district is unfair because more than half of its students are considered exceptional children, meaning each has one or more disabilities.
Chapel Hill-Carborro City Schools Superintendent Tom Forcella wrote a letter to the N.C. Board of Education supporting PACE because it provided students with behavioral problems an alternative. Currently, CHCCS has only one alternative school, Phoenix Academy.
“Phoenix is full,” Forcella said in an interview. “We'll have to think about working with our three comprehensive high schools if those parents do decide to bring their kids back.”
More than 1,000 PACE supporters have signed an online petition at change.org to keep the charter school open.
The petition, which was posted by AnneMarie Fasler, said, “We believe in their mission and we believe that PACE has changed the lives of its students, their families and the community for the better and filled a need that no other school can do as well.”
The Office of Charter Schools is also looking into PACE’s involvement with Bull City Prep Academy, a for-profit club basketball team. Nine of club’s high school team’s 11 players attend PACE.
Medley sent a letter to PACE principal Rhonda Franklin and Board of Directors Chairwoman Sylvia Mason, noting that the club was listing the charter school as a sponsor and also as staff on its team website.
PACE responded, saying they contacted coach Darryl Harris after getting the state’s inquiry and he explained he used a template from a website provider in order to publish statistics for his players.
“He further explained that there was no other place on the website to list what school the player attended,” the PACE response said. “Mr. Harris immediately contacted the website host/provider who has since removed the term ‘sponsor’ and ‘staff school’ from the Bull City Prep Website.”
PACE officials say they have no relationship with Bull City Prep Academy and that the players who attend the school are there for academics only.
Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1