Sources: Apple Charter on James Island to close this year
JAMES ISLAND, S.C. (WCIV) -- Multiple sources have confirmed that Apple Charter School on James Island will close its doors at the end of the school year.
Officials from the school and the Charleston County School District have been in talks this week to reach a deal that would close up outstanding debts at the charter school and move the students in to other schools.
The deal will include the school district forgiving some of the the school's debt in exchange for shutting down the operation. The district will absorb about $96,000 owed by the charter school, primarily in the areas of teacher medical and dental benefits. The school still has others debts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, officials said.
"Their financial difficulties make it extraordinarily difficult to provide students with the needs and the means and execution of a great education. They had a low enrollment and a vortex of issues," Charleston County School Board member Cindy Coats said.
The closing did not surprise former Apple Charter board chair Michael Mack.
"With the statement every month, what came in and what was spent; it was difficult to get that. Finance was my biggest concern. Second would be the operation of the school. Management had never run a school before. I knew a lot of decisions being made were not in the best interest for the school," Mack said.
He blamed poor leadership by Principal Patricia Williams. Williams' lawyer told ABC News 4 that his client had no comment.
CCSD plans to work with the Apple Charter board to ensure a smooth transition for current students, CCSD attorney John Emerson said.
A revocation hearing had been scheduled for Friday, but that has since been canceled after the deal was reached between the charter school's board and the school district.
On Feb. 10, the Charleston County School District Board of Trustees voted to revoke the charter of Apple Charter School on James Island. According to letters sent from the district's general counsel to Apple's board of directors, the decision came after the school failed to respond to a Dec. 6 letter to Patricia Williams, Apple's principal.
"In short, the school has failed to achieve the goals set forth in its application with regard to enrollment and student performance," the Feb. 11 letter reads.
At that point, the school owed the district more than $80,000 and was not maintaining a state-mandated full board of directors. The district also said it had failed to meet academic and enrollment requirements.
The school had 14 days to respond to the letter, which is more than two months before Friday's revocation hearing.
In the Dec. 6 letter to Williams, LaCresha Cromwell, Shmica Smalls, and Tichka Mack, CCSD's general counsel asked for "a written corrective action plan" to address a list of failures at the school, including meeting achievement goals, meeting enrollment projections, and a course of action to fix the school's negative bank balance of $160,000.
According to Apple's enrollment projections, school leaders estimated 280 students in its first year and an increase to 360 students by the 2013-14 school year. However, the school opened its doors with 114 students, and by 2013 enrollment had dipped to 74 students, or 21 percent of the projection.
Records from the school district also show that Apple failed to improve PASS scores, nor has it met Average Yearly Progress goals since it opened in 2010.
In finances, the CCSD report shows that the school did not stay current in reimbursing employees for health benefits, leading to more than $70,000 in debt by Nov. 19.
As of June 30, there was an overall negative fund of nearly $160,000.
"The ability of the school to pay past debt will be extremely difficult without external funding from another source," the letter to the board reads.
"These projections were not aspirational, they are contractual and promised in your charter application."
Charter schools function independent of the school districts, despite receiving state taxpayer money, officials said.
"We don't monitor their books. We get an annual audit," Emerson said.
Apple Charter had been on CCSD's "radar last year, but more on it this year," Emerson said.
The state gives per-child funding to all public schools, including charters. Sustaining a kindergarten through eighth grade school would be very difficult with only around 70 students, Emerson said.
The school can choose to stay open as a private school, but will no longer receive state money, he said.