Board Pulls Charter for Struggling D.C. School

The 239 students who attended Sasha Bruce Public Charter School must make other arrangements before next month.
The 239 students who attended Sasha Bruce Public Charter School must make other arrangements before next month. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The D.C. Public Charter School Board revoked the charter of a 239-student school on Capitol Hill yesterday, saying that its history of poor financial management would not improve if it stayed open another year.

Board members took the action against Sasha Bruce Public Charter School, which served students in grades 7 through 11 and would have had its first graduating class in 2007. The decision leaves students and parents scrambling to find alternatives before school opens in August.

Several board members praised the close-knit community of parents, teachers and students and their devotion to keeping the school open but said there were too many financial problems to allow the school to operate. The board's concerns included three years of deficit spending and too few assets to cover its debts.

"The school has not done what it said it was going to do," said board member Lawrence Patrick III, who was part of the 3 to 2 majority voting to revoke the charter. "I don't see anything that says the future is going to be anything different."

After the vote, which was preceded by 30 minutes of discussion, students and teachers left in stunned silence. One young man in the audience began to cry, and a teacher put her hand on his shoulder. Deborah Shore, a member of the school's board of directors, said she was "devastated and saddened."

The decision marks the third time that the public charter board, an independent body that authorizes and oversees 33 independently run District charter schools with more than 13,000 students, has revoked a charter. The board closed SouthEast Academy for Scholastic Excellence last year. The New School for Enterprise and Development closed in June.

The D.C. school board also authorizes and manages charter schools, and it has closed seven since charter schools first opened in the city in 1996.

The public charter board gave Sasha Bruce several warnings beginning in 2004 that escalated into "charter warning" status, the last step before revocation. Last night, board members said they were acting under D.C. charter law, which allows them to revoke a charter at any time for poor financial management.

Sasha Bruce has also struggled academically since it opened in 2001, failing to meet yearly progress in reading and math scores and missing other performance targets.

Even so, board members said the law would not allow them to consider inadequate academic progress as a factor for closure until after the school's fifth-year academic results, which would not be released until later in the year.

The nonprofit Sasha Bruce Youthwork, which has operated in the District for 32 years, founded the school as an expansion of its mission to help vulnerable children.

Charter school board president Tom Nida said staff members have contacted other charter schools to determine the number of available student slots and would be working with parents to help place Sasha Bruce students.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company