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Trying to Save Potomac Public Charter School

By Nelson Hernandez and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 21, 2007

The leaders of the Potomac Public Charter School in Fort Washington are hoping their school will stay open even though the Prince George's County Board of Education voted to revoke the school's charter for accounting problems.

A county Circuit Court judge granted the school a 10-day restraining order last week after the Board of Education voted June 7 to revoke the school's charter. A new court hearing is scheduled for Tuesday to discuss the situation at the school, which opened during the 2006-2007 school year and has about 130 students from kindergarten through fifth grade.

If the court grants the school an injunction at the hearing, the school will be allowed to appeal the county school board's decision to the State Board of Education, according to John White, a spokesman for the county school system.

Potomac had been on probation since March, according to Tiffany Alston, the attorney representing the school in the case. Alston said that the school had problems with accounting and governance, the possible lack of a nurse, and its special education programs. She said the school had submitted a plan to deal with the problems in May and is completing a final portion of that plan now.

But on June 4, the school system completed an internal audit that said the school had other problems, such as having no school activity fund, a conflict of interest with its before- and after-school care program, and irregularities paying its bills.

"Board policies and procedures have been violated," the audit said. "Purchases must be made through the Oracle Purchase Order system and bills must be paid timely. In several instances, late fees were assessed."

R. Owen Johnson Jr. (District 5), the chairman of the school board, said the board's vote to revoke the charter was based on the audit's findings. But Alston said she and the school's supporters want the school to remain open.

"I am going to be sending over a plan to the school board in an effort to try and negotiate some kind of settlement with them," she said. "The parents want the school to remain open. The children are all doing well."

Johnson said an agreement was possible. "We're going to do what we can to resolve those issues, and we'll see what happens," he said.

Activist on M-NCPPC

An appointee to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission attracted the most attention Tuesday as the County Council confirmed appointees to various county agencies.

By a 9 to 0 vote, the council added longtime civic activist Sarah A. Cavitt to the commission, which reviews development projects, makes recommendations to the County Council and is considered the gateway to development in the county.

Cavitt is a familiar face to anyone involved with development issues in the county. As president of the Indian Head Highway Action Council, she has been a longtime historic preservationist and environmentalist and at times found herself on opposite sides of the man who appointed her.

"I have known Ms. Cavitt now for probably 12 or 14 years," County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) told the council. He laughed and added, "She's opposed me on a number of issues."

Cavitt was a proponent of recent adequate facility rules that resulted in a year-long virtual moratorium on development in some parts of the county. Johnson suggested Cavitt would bring "balance" to the board.

Cavitt pledged to be objective and fair.

"I can only assure you that I consider every project on its merits and for its potential benefit to the county and its citizens," she said.

The council also approved the reappointment of Sylvester J. Vaughns Sr. to the commission.

WASA Power Grab Opposed

Prince George's officials are objecting to a recent move by the D.C. Council to boost the power of the city over the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, at the expense of suburban jurisdictions, including Prince George's, that are also served by the agency.

This month, the D.C. Council approved changes to WASA governance that would put two new District members on the agency's 11-member board. (The board has six D.C. members and five suburban seats).

The changes also would take budgeting authority from WASA's board and give it to the city's chief financial officer.

Because the changes affect D.C. home rule, Congress must approve them.

On Tuesday, the Prince George's County Council agreed that Council Chairman Camille Exum (D-Seat Pleasant) should sign a letter from the county executive to D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). In the letter, Johnson calls the proposed changes "very troubling" to Prince George's.

"We do not believe that our residents and ratepayers should be subject to the District Chief Financial Officer's oversight," the letter reads.

A quasi-independent agency of the D.C. government, WASA has a yearly budget of $320 million. D.C. residents get water from the agency, which also monitors city fire hydrants. D.C. officials contend that it is the only agency not financially accountable to the city's chief financial officer.

But WASA's waste treatment plant also receives sewage from Montgomery, Prince George's, Loudoun and Fairfax counties.

The agency's general manger and Montgomery officials also oppose the move.

Principal Conyers Promoted

Sylvester Conyers, the principal of Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, has earned a promotion that will have him helping oversee instruction at all high schools in the county.

As the head of Roosevelt, the top high school in the county as measured by test scores, Conyers was one of the most prominent principals in Prince George's. A native of New York, he won praise from parents at Roosevelt for keeping up the school's reputation during his seven-year tenure. Conyers had been a teacher and administrator at Roosevelt for seven years and was principal of Benjamin Stoddert Middle School in Temple Hills before becoming Roosevelt's principal in 2000.

"One of his responsibilities will be the science and technology programs and biomedical programs," said William Ritter, the head of a new consortium of Prince George's high schools to which Conyers will belong.

Ritter would not say who was being considered to replace Conyers at Roosevelt, and said the school system was "not rushing" to fill his position.

"I want to make sure that there's a good pool of candidates for every school," Ritter said.

Principals-in-Training

It's easier to get into Harvard or Yale than it is to gain entrance into New Leaders for New Schools, a national nonprofit program that will help Prince George's build its corps of talented principals.

Peter Kannam, head of the nonprofit's Baltimore division, said 129 people applied to be in the rigorous principal training program. Of those, 62 made it to the first round of interviews. Only 21 made it to the final round; there were five survivors. That's an admissions rate of about 4 percent.

The five principals-in-waiting -- Chandra Brown, Glynis Jordan, Ingrid Reynolds-Lawson, Tara Sanguinette and Michelle Tyler-Skinner-- had an informal dinner of kebabs and asparagus with Superintendent John E. Deasy and school board members Monday night. They will leave for an intensive summer training program in Boston on Sunday.

Next school year, they will be assigned to county elementary, middle and high schools where they will work under an experienced principal.

The five, dubbed "the wonder women," said they were determined to help youngsters achieve.

"I don't feel like I'm part of an organization, I feel like I'm part of a movement," Brown said.

It was too much for one school board member, Patricia J. Fletcher (District 3), who broke down in tears as she talked to the principals.

"You make me very, very proud," she said. "Because I see that there is some hope."

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