Hundreds turn out to protest closing of PACE Academy

Dozens turn out to protest the closing of PACE academy in July.

CARRBORO, N.C. (WNCN) – Hundreds of students, parents and teachers from a local charter school rallied Monday morning outside the State Board of Education building.

PACE Academy’s charter was recently revoked by a State Board of Education review panel.

Protestors said the State Board of Education has relied on what they call unreliable reports from the Charter School Advisory aboard which led to Pace Academy’s charter being revoked.

“Just because they’re different does not mean they don’t deserve a chance. Some of us have to work jobs. Some of us have kids that we have to take care of. Some of us have arrhythmia. How can you close down our school? That’s our only chance to succeed,” said Jerry Garfunkel, a student at PACE Academy

PACE, which serves students in grades 9-12, was granted a 10-year charter by the State Board of Education (SBE) in 2004.

In December 2013, PACE appeared before the Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) as part of the renewal process, according to documents. During that meeting, the CSAB recommended that the SBE not renew the charter for PACE Academy due to “persistent patterns of noncompliance, low academic performance, and potential financial issues.”

“We need our state board, our governor and the charter school advisory board and all the decision makers that are making the decision about this charter to make a different decision and keep Pace open,” said Stephanie Perry with Organizing Against Racism NC.

PACE was notified of the decision on Feb. 6, 2014 and filed an appeal, which resulted in PACE being granted a charter for three years. As part of the settlement agreement, certain conditions were placed on PACE, including dismissing its case against the SBE, expanding the board of directors to a minimum of seven members by Oct. 31, 2014 and holding a retreat in August 2014 to develop a strategic plan. PACE also was to comply with all federal and state laws in the charter agreement.

If PACE could not comply and failed to meet any of the conditions, the school agreed it would surrender its charter to the SBE.

PACE was placed on financial disciplinary status on Sept. 25, 2014 due to “the school’s depletion of more than 60 percent of the expected final, annual allotment.”

PACE was also issued a warning by the state Office of Charter Schools. The warning followed a year during which officials with the State Office of Charter Schools made numerous visits to PACE and found discrepancies with the school’s student enrollment records.

For example PACE was funded for 79 students during the 2014-15 fiscal year, however, the Dec. 1, 2014 headcount found only 60 students.

PACE appeared before the CSAB on March 9 to address issues discovered by Department of Public Instruction. CSAB heard from both parties and advised the state board that PACE did not comply with its settlement agreement.

On April 2, the State Board of Education agreed with CSAB’s recommendation.

According to documents, PACE said it complied with the seven stipulations of the settlement agreement and said that DPI “caused its financial distress” and claimed “DPI’s accounting of PACE students is not accurate.”

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