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Charter School Picked to Take Over Another

By Theola Labb¿
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 14, 2008

The D.C. Public Charter School Board last night selected the Howard Road Academy charter school to assume management of Washington Academy, a charter school in Southeast that did not have enough money to continue operating past February.

The decision marked the first time that the charter board has allowed a school to take over for another scheduled to close. Along with Howard Road, three other charter schools responded to a request for proposals that the charter board issued this month: Hope Community, Mary McLeod Bethune and William E. Doar Jr.

The board, meeting in the sanctuary of Jones Memorial United Methodist Church in Southeast, where Washington Academy has one of its two campuses, did not go into detail about why it chose Howard Road.

The unanimous vote came after officials from each school gave a short presentation and answered questions from the board and parents. The pews were packed with more than 100 parents.

Washington Academy, which opened three years ago, has debts including unpaid payroll taxes, according to the charter board. It has 254 students from preschool to sixth grade and pays about $25,000 a month in rent for its two Southeast locations.

The quickness of the board's decision made some parents wonder whether the meeting was simply a show.

"I think it was already predetermined," said Melissa Benjamin, president of the Washington Academy Parent Association, which she said formed after parents could not get information about the school's finances. "I think they had this meeting to appease the parents."

During the meeting, board members questioned the schools about their academic programs and financial ability to operate the school. Some parents asked school officials whether they would retain the teachers and keep the students in their current location.

Howard Road officials said they will keep students where they are this school year and will interview all the staff members and review their teaching certifications.

Tracey Johnson, president of the Howard Road Academy's board of directors, said he thought that the school was chosen because of its strong academic record. "We had the best proposal," he said.

The school, which is in its seventh year of operation and has students from kindergarten to seventh grade, also noted in its presentation that it had more than $4 million on hand to manage the transition.

Nona Richardson, a charter board spokeswoman, said the board would send letters to parents explaining the decision and offering to help them find places for their children at other schools if they don't want them to stay until the end of the year.

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