State Board of Education appeals panel to recommend closing School of the Arts for Boys Academy in Chatham County

By Greg Childress

Pittsboro, NC – A State Board of Education appeals panel will recommend against allowing School of the Arts for Boys Academy (SABA) to continue to operate in Chatham County.

School of the Arts for Boys Academy students. (Photo via SABA website.)

The state’s Charter Schools Review Board ordered the school to close December 30, citing its low enrollment. SABA leaders appealed the review board’s decision to the state board.

The full state board is expected to decide Thursday at its monthly business meeting whether to follow the panel’s recommendation. School leaders had hoped the panel would recommend allowing the state’s only all-boys charter school to remain open through the end of the academic year.

But appeals panel members said Monday that too many questions remain about the school’s financial viability, despite assurances from school leaders that private donations and a $75,000 pledge from the SABA’s board Chairman Brent Anderson would keep the school afloat though the remainder of the school year.

“It is obvious that you care deeply about these children, and this makes it a very difficult decision for us, but the facts are unavoidable,” said State Board member Jill Camnitz. “The number of kids that you need to have compared to the kids that you have is not allowable.”

Monday’s meeting was a continuation of an appeals hearing held Thursday. The state board panel agreed to allow SABA leaders more time to provide financial information showing it had the money to pay its bills through June.

The review board had revoked SABA’s charter because it enrolled fewer than 80 students, which the state considers the minimum needed for financial viability. SABA was placed on both governance and financial noncompliance status October 10 by the state Department of Public Instruction’s School Business Division — Monitoring and Compliance Section.

Schools are placed on financial noncompliance status if they show signs of financial insolvency or weakness and on governance noncompliance status if any of seven identified governance warning conditions are found. Those warnings include financial insolvency or weakness and a decline in student membership.

The Chatham County school opened in August and currently has 49 students enrolled in grades 3-6. Enrollment projections called for 116 students the first year of operation.

The state does grant exemptions from the 80-student enrollment requirement, but operators must make the request when the charter application is filed. Office of Charter Schools Director Ashley Baquero said she knows of only one school with such an exemption.

The full state board will also consider Heritage Collegiate’s Leadership Academy – Wake’s appeal on Thursday. The appeals panel has recommended that the state board deny a charter to the K-8 school planned for northeastern Wake County.

The review panel denied Heritage Collegiate’s charter request citing concerns about school leader Kashi Bazemore’s leadership of a low-performing charter school in Bertie County.

The Charter School Advisory Board, which the review board replaced with passage of House Bill 618, had recommended charter approval for Heritage Collegiate and gave its application and board of directors high marks.

Education Reporter Greg Childress covers all aspects of public education in North Carolina, including debates over school funding, curricula, privatization, and teacher pay and licensing.