Chapel Hill News

PACE files an appeal to get charter back

A charter school that was not renewed in February has appealed to get its charter back.

PACE Academy filed an appeal with 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 expires in June.

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.

According to its appeal, PACE claims the board deprived them of property, “failed to use proper procedure,” and “acted arbitrarily or capriciously.” PACE officials also claim 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),” principal Rhonda Franklin said.

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 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 previously said that it was unfair to compare her students’ test scores to those in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

“We’re not hiding behind our students with disabilities,” Franklin said. “It’s the one-size fits all testing that does not work for a lot of students.”

She said, however, that doesn’t mean that her students do not grasp concepts.

CHCCS Superintendent Tom Forcella wrote a letter to the state Board of Education supporting PACE because it provided students with behavioral problems an alternative. Currently, CHCCS has only one alternative school, Phoenix Academy.

The appeal is scheduled to be heard the week of June 23, but that is subject to change.

“We’re going to fight this to the end,” Franklin said.