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State officials to remove Charlotte charter school’s disciplinary status, delay Kinston action

Movement School Eastland
Movement School
Movement School Eastland.

A state board renewed the charter for Charlotte’s Movement School Eastland on Monday after a state official said she may have been hasty in sounding a financial alarm.

North Carolina’s school finance office put the east Charlotte elementary school on disciplinary status in January, after reporting that its expenses outstripped its revenues by more than $300,000. That included a deficit in government funds of more than $81,000.

Movement Eastland is one of four charter schools run by the Charlotte-based Movement Schools chain, which has announced plans to expand to South Carolina, Georgia and other parts of North Carolina. The chain is supported by Movement Mortage’s foundation, and foundation director Tim Hurley told the charter board that no one talked to him before raising concerns about the budget.

“The first I learned about it was actually through a WFAE story,” he said.

Hurley said he could have told the state that the deficit is part of a strategy. Movement Eastland opened in 2020.

“Our model starts slow and small and grows slowly, because that’s what’s best for our students, we believe,” Hurley said. “And that leads to early-year operating deficits, and we’re comfortable with that.”

He said the foundation will cover the gap, and Eastland and all other Movement Schools will be out of the red for fiscal 2024.

Shirley McFadden, of the Department of Public Instruction’s school business office, told the Charter Schools Review Board she now thinks the school is on solid footing. She said she was in a hurry to pull together information for the board’s January meeting, when it was scheduled to vote on Movement Eastland’s charter renewal, and made an error in reporting on enrollment. She said if she gets written confirmation that the Movement Foundation will cover the gap, she would change the disciplinary status to probationary.

McFadden and two charter board members apologized for issuing the disciplinary letter without consulting school leaders.

The charter board voted unanimously to renew Movement Eastland’s charter for five years.

Delay on troubled Kinston school

The Charter Schools Review Board was also scheduled to vote Monday on state officials’ recommendation to close Children’s Village Academy, a K-8 school in Kinston that has financial, regulatory and academic shortcomings.

According to documents filed with the report, Children’s Village has faced allegations of conflicts of interest, including poorly documented loans from a board member. It agreed two weeks ago to replay $152,000 in federal grant money that was improperly spent on contracts and wages. That payment is due May 8, state officials told the board.

Officials also said Children’s Academy is currently running a $3,000 deficit and has seen enrollment fall from 153 students to 141. That led several members of the charter review board to question whether there was any path to recovery.

“They have a low fund balance. They have no money in the bank. They have $152,000 they have to pay, and they can’t use federal funds for that,” said Stephen Gay, a charter board member who’s executive director of Bradford Prep charter school. “When they pay that back, my question is going to be where did that money come from? Because they can’t take out another loan.”

State officials said repayment would have to come from county money, which is paid on a per-pupil basis.

Children’s Academy is on the state’s list of continually low-performing charter schools. But state officials noted that test scores are similarly low for students in Lenoir County public schools.

Despite voicing concerns about long-standing and complex problems at the school, the board agreed to wait until May to see if the Children’s Village board could present a plan for recovery.

“The argument for renewal seems to be an uphill battle,” said Eric Sanchez, a board member who’s founder of Henderson Collegiate Charter School. But he added that closing a school is a big step, “and I think it’s somewhat almost irresponsible to make a decision until every bit of information’s on the table.”

“I’m willing to give them four weeks to make me feel better about the decision,” said board Chair Bruce Friend, who’s head of Pine Springs Prep charter school.

Children’s Village is among 17 charter schools that came up for review this year to decide whether they’d continue to get public funding. The charter board voted in March to close the other, Gastonia’s Ridgeview Charter School, and the state Board of Education upheld that decision on appeal last week. Ridgeview had extremely low test scores but no reports of financial or compliance problems.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.