Board yanks charter for ITT-sponsored school

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One Indianapolis charter school was ordered closed and another is temporarily merging into a sister school, bringing upheaval just days after the start of the school year.

The Indiana State Charter Board voted Wednesday to revoke the charter from Early Career Academy, which is located on the campus of ITT Tech and is sponsored by ITT, giving the school just 30 days help its students find places in other schools and close up shop.

The school lost its not-for-profit status, and was plagued by other problems, leading the board to decide it could not operate this school year.

The school was designed so students at the Early Career Academy also could earn associate degrees from ITT Tech at no cost, but the college has faced scrutiny for providing credits that are not accepted by major universities in the state.

Early Career Academy lost its not-for-profit status in November 2015 for failing to file the appropriate paperwork, according to the state charter board’s executive director, James Betley. Although charter schools can work with for-profit management companies, state law only allows not-for-profits to receive charters.

“They were operating in violation of statute and the charter agreement for the entire year and currently are right now,” Betley told the board. He added that combined with the school’s other record keeping lapses “that, to me, just shows a dysfunctional organization.”

Just 19 students are currently enrolled in the Early Career Academy, which was expected to serve between 80 and 150 students when its charter was approved. Most of the board members quit at the start of the summer, according to Betley.

The initial recommendation was to allow the school a final year so that current students could complete their degrees, but instead the board voted to revoke the charter with just 30 days notice.

“Given the number of violations that are discussed in the paper, I do not feel comfortable … giving them a year to wrap up,” said board member Gretchen Gutman. “For those 19 students it’s not fair.”

Carpe Diem Shadeland’s plan to shift its students to its campus on Meridian Street this year also was driven by missed enrollment targets, although its leaders hope the move will be temporary. The board gave the charter network permission to move the students from the Shadeland campus at Carpe Diem Meridian while leaders work to increase enrollment and improve operations.

Carpe Diem, a national charter school network, typically aims to enroll about 300 students at each of its schools, but the Shadeland campus has just 70 students. The Arizona-based organization opened its first school in Indianapolis at the Meridian campus on the near northside in 2012, and opened two more campuses last year. It currently serves 340 students at all three Indianapolis schools, according to founder Rick Ogston.

Carpe Diem plans to cut costs this year by busing Shadeland students about eight miles to the Meridian campus. If the schools are able to attract more students, Carpe Diem will aim is to reopen the Shadeland campus next year. The network would need to enroll a total of about 500 students to support three campuses.

Ogston said although the schools would share a building, they would have separate principals and staff and the Shadeland campus would maintain its own identity.

“(We believe) this is a temporary situation of challenges with enrollment at the school,” said Michelle McKeown, general counsel for the charter board. “We do believe that for this academic year it will be like this and then they will separate eventually.”

The board also approved a corrective action plan from the school, which aims to improve compliance with board policy regarding special education, financial stability and management.

Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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