Options likely to remain open, but DCPS will not manage it


Options Public Charter School is seen in the District. (Marlon Correa/The Washington Post)

The District’s Options Public Charter School appears likely to continue operating at least through the end of the 2014-15 school year, but the city’s school system will not take over its management as previously hoped, D.C. government lawyers said in court Tuesday.

D.C. Public Schools officials had been in talks to run Options, a school for at-risk youths that faces possible closure after allegations that its former managers diverted millions of tax dollars meant for students.

But those negotiations broke down when officials could not find a legal way for Options to contract directly with the school system, D.C. government lawyer Jimmy Rock told D.C. Superior Court Judge Craig Iscoe.

City and charter-school officials are seeking to keep Options running for at least another year under the oversight of Josh Kern, the court-appointed receiver who has been responsible for the school’s operations since the allegations of financial mismanagement surfaced publicly in October.

Closing the school earlier would make it difficult, if not impossible, to ensure a smooth transition for the nearly 400 students, many of whom require special services, according to Jonathan Stoel, Kern’s attorney.

In December, the D.C. Public Charter School Board voted to take the first steps toward closing Options for fiscal mismanagement. But the board has shown that it is willing to reverse that decision if Kern remains at the helm, according to D.C. government lawyers, who asked Iscoe to extend Kern’s term through the end of the 2014-15 school year.

Iscoe did not grant that request Tuesday, but he said he likely will do so by early next week. He said that he never intended for the school to continue under a court-appointed receiver for so long but that he has been convinced that retaining Kern — and keeping the school open — is in the students’ best interest.

“Schools should not be operated by judges,” Iscoe said. But he said Options students have been “far better served” under Kern’s oversight than they would have had the court declined to intervene.

Kern and the city charter board are drawing up an agreement for how the school would be run next year. Kern would still be responsible for financial oversight but would hire an executive director to run the school’s day-to-day operations, lawyers said Tuesday.

It’s not clear what would happen after the end of the 2014-15 school year. Options could continue to operate under another management organization or close.

The charter board is scheduled to have a hearing April 23 about the school’s future. A vote to keep the school open or move forward with plans to close it is scheduled for April 29.

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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