The D.C. Public Charter School Board voted unanimously Thursday morning to revoke the charter of Dorothy I. Height Community Academy Public Charter School, citing a pattern of fiscal mismanagement and a breach of fiduciary duties, a move that affects 1,600 D.C. students.
Scott Pearson, the board’s executive director, said in a statement that there was “substantial evidence” that the school had engaged in a pattern of fiscal mismanagement. “When that happens, the School Reform Act is clear that PCSB must revoke a school’s charter.”
Community Academy founder Kent Amos has been accused in a lawsuit of diverting millions of dollars from the school to a management company for his own financial benefit. In October, a Superior Court judge ordered that payments to the management company stop.
A. Scott Bolden, an attorney for the school, said that the board’s decision was “irrational, unreasonable and punitive” and that the board should not have acted on the basis of allegations in a pending lawsuit. Bolden has maintained that the school’s contracts with the management company are legal and that Amos was fairly compensated for his work. He said Amos can continue working for the school until the end of the school year.
Community Academy is one of the city’s oldest and largest charters, operating three schools and an online academy that serve 1,600 students. The schools will be allowed to operate through June 30, and D.C. officials said they have a transition plan for those students for next school year.
Many families had lobbied city officials to find a way to keep the schools open.
“While the vote will undoubtedly cause angst for the 1,600 CAPCS students and their families, the District of Columbia is ready to make sure that the needs of the students are met,” Jennifer C. Niles, deputy mayor for education, wrote to the school community.
The revocation of Community Academy’s charter will cause changes for its three campuses next school year, when different operators take over, but there should be seats for the charter’s students.
The Burdick campus — known as Amos 1 — at 1300 Allison St. NW will be operated next year by D.C. Public Schools and can serve all 590 students.
The Armstrong campus — known as Amos 5 — at 1400 First St. NW will be operated by Friendship Public Charter Schools and can serve all 523 current students. Friendship also will operate the online academy, with 123 students enrolled.
The Keene campus — known as Amos 2 — at 33 Riggs Rd. NE will be used by D.C. Bilingual Public Charter School. The charter school plans to bring in as many as 350 students from its Columbia Heights location, where its lease is expiring. The school can add as many as 90 students currently at Amos 2, and students at that school also are guaranteed spots at the new Friendship campus.
In her letter, Niles told families that she will work “diligently” to support them during the transition. “Your child’s education remains my number one priority.”
Enrollment specialists will help each family make a decision, but the plan allows for most to stay in the same schools, with different operators, if they choose. The new operators can decide whether they will rehire employees.
Two Community Academy schools occupy city-owned property, so the deputy mayor for education has authority over how they will be used. The agreement with D.C. Bilingual is for one year; any longer-term lease to a charter operator will go through a formal process that can take upwards of five months, Niles said.
Community Academy purchased the Armstrong campus through a bond, and Friendship has agreed to take on that debt.
Bolden said Community Academy had offered to relinquish its charter and transfer all of its assets to Friendship in lieu of revocation, but the board turned down the deal. He called the final arrangement a “land grab.”
Dedan Bruner, whose daughter is in preschool at Amos 2, said he is frustrated by the complex outcome and is concerned for his daughter’s teachers.
“My daughter being in that building was not what I love about the school. It’s the teachers,” Bruner said. “But now they are being told that, ‘Hey, good news is the kids will stay, but you will probably go.’ ”