This morning, the Charter School Committee of the Board of Trustees of The State University of New York (SUNY), the governing body of the SUNY Charter Schools Institute decided to renew the charter of U.F.T. Charter School for a two-year probationary period during which the school must meet performance standards or automatically lose their contract to operate the school. The charter school is a project of the New York City teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers. Beth Fertig reported yesterday on the unusual news that of the 10 charter schools up for renewal by SUNY, the U.F.T. school was the only school not to receive a recommendation for renewal from the Charter Schools Institute’s staff. The staff did, however, issue what Fertig calls a “scathing” report. As Fertig explains,
The union opened the school in 2005 to demonstrate that unions and charters are not mutually exclusive. The school, located in East New York, Brooklyn, serves children in kindergarten through 12th grade at two campuses. In 2010, it was given a conditional, three-year renewal instead of a full five-year renewal because of its anemic test scores and other academic indicators. But a short-term renewal like that can only be granted once, and the union has been fighting to prove the school has improved and deserves a full five-year renewal.
Today, the SUNY trustees disagreed and granted the school what amounts to a do or die extension. It must improve or close.
According to SUNY staff report, the union’s school has a lot to work on. Fertig summarizes the findings:
– The secondary campus has lacked stability with five principals in seven years. Teacher attrition had begun to improve, but there was “limited instructional coaching that is not targeted to improving individual teacher skills in a sustained and coherent manner.”
– School leaders reported that “staff had been counseled on appropriate interaction with students following approximately 10 corporal punishment incidents.” This followed a crackdown on discipline.
– The staff reported “chronic shortages of textbooks and unrepaired equipment.”
– The school never reported test results for standardized national exams in math and English for its high school students. After the school administered the tests in 2012, “the student test booklets were lost and the publisher never received them for scoring.” However, other high school data indicates the school is on track to meet its graduation goal.
– A review of board minutes found “numerous, apparently systemic, Open Meetings Law violations.”
– “The school is in poor fiscal condition” partly because of attrition. Many elementary students did not move on to the UFT’s middle and high school campus, which contributed to budget shortfalls. The school relied on interest-free bridge loans from the U.F.T. to support day to day operations. As of June, 2012 the school had $2.5 million in total liabilities versus total assets of $1.2 million.
– The school was in violation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, because it had a number of students who required more restrictive classroom settings than the school offered.
– The school “was in violation of state law requiring that school personnel (and certain contractors with direct access to students) be subject to a fingerprint-supported criminal background check prior to appointment at the school. At the time of the renewal inspection visit, the school was unable to produce evidence that five individuals were appropriately cleared for employment.”
– The school received a D on its last report card from the city, which covered only the elementary and middle grades. Just about a third of its students were reading at grade level overall.