D.C.'s City Collegiate Public Charter School plans to close

By Michael Birnbaum
Wednesday, December 23, 2009; B04

A four-year-old D.C. charter school plans to close at the end of June because of falling enrollment and financial concerns.

Officials with City Collegiate Public Charter School, a middle school in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, told the D.C. Public Charter School Board of the plans Monday evening.

"There's no right time to close a school, but we've looked at next year, and we believe we would not have the enrollment, the per-pupil funding that we'd need," said Julie Klingenstein, co-chairman of the school's board of trustees. The school had budgeted for 100 students but has only 70, she said, suggesting that rapid turnover in school leadership hurt enrollment.

"The thing about charter schools is that they need to go up like rockets," Klingenstein said. At City Collegiate, she said, there had been four interim or permanent heads before a fifth brought a measure of stability in January.

Charter schools receive public funding but operate with a high degree of autonomy. They depend heavily on enrollment because of per-pupil funding formulas.

This school year, D.C. charters are receiving $11,833 for each middle school student, which is supposed to cover the costs of classes, administration and facilities.

Klingenstein said that more than half of the school's students are eighth-graders on track to graduate in June. That minimizes the number of families who will be affected by the closure, but it also means the school was facing a further drop in enrollment next year. It has 11 sixth-graders.

Last school year, 49 percent of the school's students were rated proficient or advanced in reading on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System tests, about four percentage points higher than the city average. The school's math scores mirrored the city's, with 46 percent of students counted as proficient or advanced.

City Collegiate is the first charter school to announce plans to close this school year. Audrey Williams, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said she didn't know of any other schools that were planning to close.

Last school year, four D.C. charter schools closed for academic or financial reasons; one of them, City Lights, closed in the middle of the year. This year, charter enrollment is up in the city, accounting for 38 percent of public school students. There are 60 charter schools teaching students on 90 campuses citywide.

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