PACE Academy Statement - January 7, 2014

308 NC 54

Carrboro, NC 27510

January 7, 2014

 

William Cobey, Chairman

North Carolina State Board of Education

301 North Wilmington Street, Room 212

6302 Mail Service Center

Raleigh, NC 27699-6302

 

Dear Chairman Cobey and Members of the North Carolina State Board of Education:

On behalf of the staff and students of PACE Academy, I am happy to submit PACE Academy’s response to the most recent statements from the NCDPI Office of Charter Schools and the subsequent recommendation from the Charter School Advisory Board.  We ask you to fully weigh all of the evidence contained in this letter.  In addition to this formal statement, the PACE Academy community has developed a website with supplemental documentation to support each assertion made herein (http://www.pace2014renewal.com) .

Response to the Charter School Advisory Board Recommendation for Non-renewal of PACE Academy

The process of charter renewal as it has been applied to PACE Academy has been fundamentally unfair and has presented a grossly distorted picture of PACE’s compliance and performance.  For the first eight years of its operation. PACE Academy was never notified of its failure to comply with any state or federal laws or regulations. In February 2012, for the first time, the Office of Charter Schools “OCS” notified PACE of non–compliance – teacher licensure, placing PACE on Governance Cautionary Status May 2012 and Governance Probationary Status August 2012 for the same issue.  By February 13, 2013, less than one year later, PACE had corrected the licensure problem despite significant delays attributable to the Licensure department.  

However, the Office of Charter Schools represented to the Charter School Advisory Board “CSAB” at its meeting on December 10, 2013 that it had taken three years for PACE to correct the licensure problem. This misrepresentation is but one example of the many incorrect assertions OCS presented to the CSAB, some for the first time on December 10, 2013.  In addition, OCS cited several general policies to gauge PACE’s compliance and performance that either do not apply to PACE’s population or do not accurately assess PACE’s performance as will be discussed below.

For example, in their presentation to the CSAB, OCS condemned PACE for keeping students enrolled who had acquired enough credits to graduate and for a graduation rate of 51.6% in 2013. PACE has a special needs population of greater than 50%, many with diagnoses of autism, mental health, and intellectual disabilities.  PACE’s EC population is 4 to 5 times larger than the state average for traditional schools. North Carolina State law permits, indeed encourages, schools to keep students especially special needs students, who need to repeat courses they have previously taken and to take additional courses after they have enough credits to graduate in order to prepare those students for success in the real world. See SBE Policy GCS-M-001. PACE has followed that policy and has, in consultation with parents, kept students for more than the standard 4 years path to graduation. Given its stated mission of preparing students for life, PACE’s graduation rate will always be below the State average because DPI calculates the graduation rate using the number of students who graduate within 4 years.  PACE will always have students who attend for 5 or 6 years until they acquire essential life skills and achieve individualized IEP transition goals. By looking only at PACE’s graduation rate, without considering its  mission, the concentration of special needs students and their practice of keeping students in school until they are prepared to leave, transforms one of PACE’s strengths into a weakness. It is tantamount to measuring a square peg with a round hole.

The Charter Renewal Process Experienced by PACE Academy

After eight years operation without comment, the Department of Public Instruction “DPI” and OCS raised issues at PACE in 4 documents: The Notice of Governance Noncompliance Status dated August 24, 2012, a Compliance document dated December 19, 2012 outlining the areas of noncompliance, The Executive Summary attached to the CSAB Agenda posted December 6, 2013, and the Power Point presentation presented for the first time December 10, 2013 during the CSAB meeting.

The Compliance assessment presented 5 areas of non-compliance, 4 if you realize licensure was the only reason for the non-compliance in Governance. Once notified of the areas of non-compliance in December 2012, PACE worked diligently to correct the problems. February 14, 2013, PACE received notice from OCS that the statutory licensure requirement had been attained - after an eleven month ordeal with the NCDPI Licensure Section. The last license was issued February 13, 2013, but had an effective date of August 1, 2012.  Two weeks later, PACE submitted a corrective action plan February 27, 2013 which OSC acknowledged, but never followed up.

OCS conducted a site visit May 2, 2013, but failed to deliver a report of its findings to PACE until Friday, December 6, 2013, 4 days before the CSAB meeting.

By June 2013, PACE had conducted EOC tests and submitted documentation to DPI and corrected cited problems in Exceptional Children’s (EC) documentation with no comment from DPI or OCS. Please note that PACE, despite its high EC population had never received a written complaint, misused EC funding or had any other problems in its EC department except failure to properly document testing accommodations and other services it was providing to EC students.  In short, PACE has been providing the services its EC students need since 2004 when the doors first opened. By June 2013, PACE believed it had corrected all the areas of non-compliance and would be favorably recommended for Charter renewal.

In November 2013, OCS provided PACE with the Executive Summary for the CSAB meeting, but none of the narrative sections were included. PACE continued to believe it had corrected all areas of concern and OCS would recommend renewal.

On December 6, 2013, the completed Executive Summary, including narrative sections, was posted on OCS website, but PACE was unable to access the information.

On December 10, 2013, OCS presented the Power Point raising new issues, such as violation of the 95% rule, violation of the 10/20 rule, financial concerns, low graduation rate, testing comparison to CHCCS students, and discrepancy in PACE’s head count.

At the very least, constitutional due process requires timely notice of the allegations made against PACE, and a meaningful opportunity to be heard and respond to the allegations. This lack of due process was not only fundamentally unfair, but presented a grossly inaccurate picture of PACE’s compliance with State and Federal law and its performance over its 9 year history. PACE was given 5 minutes to make its presentation and presumably to respond to the new allegations it first confronted at the meeting.  PACE simply was not provided timely notice of the allegations, nor a meaningful opportunity to be heard and address the concerns raised.

PACE’s Response to the Allegations of Noncompliance

Realizing this may be the only opportunity to address the State Board of Education “SBE”, PACE will attempt to address the concerns raised throughout this renewal process and present a more accurate picture of its operations and performance.

  1. Academics

  1. Performance Composite

  1. OCS presented a chart in slide 1 of its Power Point, showing a decline in
    EOC testing
    . In 2009-2010, Pace had a performance composite of 57.3% and met high growth. In the next 2 years, PACE fell afoul of the 95% participation rate and its EOC scores were ignored. However, the DPI report card for PACE for the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years show that the percentage of PACE students who scored proficient [level III or level IV], in Algebra I:  88.9% and 91.7%  respectively; in English I, 77.8% and 64.7% respectively; and Biology,  84.2% and 78.6% respectively.  These scores are either above or within a few percentage points of the state average despite PACE’s high needs population.  In 2011-2012, scores plummeted when Occupational pathway students did not have the option to take the NCEXTEND2.  In other words, students with lower cognitive abilities took the same exam as their regular ed counterparts.

This past year PACE’s composite scores are equally disappointing, but reflect a downward trend in scores across the state due to the new READY EOC tests. Historically PACE’s scores demonstrate that students, even those with exceptional needs, can and do perform well on the state testing and the SBE should see this year’s test results for what they are-an anomaly.

  1. Comparison of PACE’s Performance vs. Chapel Hill, Carrboro City School System.

Beside the “financial concerns” which will be addressed later, this presentation is perhaps the most unfair and misleading. To compare CHCCS to PACE is outrageous. CHCCS is the best school system in the state of North Carolina mainly because it benefits from being in a university town with a high percentage of highly intelligent students. All the high schools in CHCCS are ranked among the top 100 schools, nationally. CHCCS also enjoys the state’s highest district wide SAT score at 1,185 besting both the state (1,004) and national (1,017) averages, nearly 92% of CHCCS graduating class last year went on to a two or four year college. By comparison, PACE had over fifty percent of its students with disabling conditions. Many of its students have not and would not do well in CHCCS, but have done well at PACE because the school has small class sizes, caring and committed teachers, and keeps many of them longer than four years to prepare them for the real world.

  1. 95% Participation Requirements

DPI assumes that all students in grade 10 take Algebra I and English II, and all students in grade 11 take Biology. If a school does not test at least 95% of students in those grades for those tests, the test scores are deemed unreliable and are ignored. PACE failed to test 95% of its students in 2010 and 2011. PACE has determined that 3 things affected its ability to test 95% of its students in 2010 and 2011:

  1. Students failing a course had no incentive to and refused to appear to take EOC tests. In order to correct this problem, PACE actually tracked students down and got them to the school for testing, in one case obtaining a student’s release from jail, to take the EOC tests.

  2. Special needs students with a specific learning disability in math are not required per state law 115C-81(B) to take Algebra I, but are still counted by DPI in calculating the test participation rate.  A December 17, 2013 memo -- which was forwarded to all schools on January 9, 2014 by OCS - confirms the math exemption applies to Alg I/Math I.

  3. DPI included students who had completed the EOC testing at another school in PACE’s population that should have taken the EOC tests.  Because of  PACE’s small 10th and 11th grades, the effect of 1 or  2 students not taking the exam has statistical significance when calculating the percentage of students taking the exam.

 

  1. Financial Concerns

This issue was first raised on December 10, 2013 in the CSAB meeting.

  1. Unrestricted cash on hand. PACE met industry standards for 2011, 2012, but fell below the standard for 2013.

  2. Deficit spending. The information the Department of Finance and Business provided is accurate as far as it goes. PACE has had 9 audits, all of which were clean, identifying no areas of concern. Over the initial six years of its operations, PACE saved over $500,000, anticipating the need to expand to a new building and to provide for the expenses for upfit, deposits and the inevitable disruption to enrollment. PACE moved to its current location in August 2010. That year it spent $69,000 of its savings for leasehold upfit and to supplement its operations. At the end of that year, PACE also graduated its largest class of seniors, one-third of its student population. PACE, in hindsight, realizes it failed to advertise its success and recruit new students to replace those who graduated. It suffered a decline of 25 students, but relied on its savings to cover operational losses. This year PACE enrolled 169 students and has budget that shows a $30,000 surplus at the end of this fiscal year. Finance and Business’s concerns are understandable if you simply look at the yearly revenues and expenses and ignore the substantial savings PACE had on hand and the increase in enrollment this year. Again, measuring a square peg with a round hole.

  3. Cash Flow Issues. These issues arise from the deficit spending explained above.

  4. The 2011 audit was not submitted until August 2012. PACE Academy submitted all required documentation to and cooperated fully with its auditors working on the 2011 audit. The audit was delayed because the auditors could not obtain information on teacher licensure from DPI and finally suggested and eventually filed a F0IA request to the Licensure Section to obtain those records. PACE’s audits have been clean with the auditors finding no material problems over the 9 years of PACE’s operation.

 

  1. Student Enrollment.

OCS raised concerns, for the first time, in the Power Point about PACE’s student enrollment, claiming PACE only has 125 students, noting that during a DPI site visit, the officials could only account for 126 students of PACE’s 169 students.

  1. PACE’s 2013-2014 student enrollment. OCS is using the 2012-2013 enrollment figure of 125 students because PACE is one of 35 Charter schools for which DPI cannot verify enrollment due to problems with the Power School software implemented on July 1, 2013. Notably, the officials who conducted the site visit brought a printout they produced from Power School showing 179 students. PACE’s records show a decline from the first month to 169 students as of the date of the DPI visit. PACE has retained written attendance sheets it used in August and September because Power School was not working correctly. PACE can verify the ADM from those records if necessary.

  2. Site visit head count. Representatives from Accountability visited PACE on November 21, 2013, the Thursday before Thanksgiving break. They visited around lunchtime. They attempted to locate all the students attending PACE. Lunch time is perhaps the worst time to try and verify enrollment at PACE. In order to serve the needs of its students, i.e. students with jobs, single mothers etc., PACE offers modified scheduling with students attending classes at multiple times throughout the day. Some students attend from 8:00 am -12:00 pm, some attend from 12:00 - 3:30 pm, and some attend at night from 4:00-8:00 pm.  Further complicating the count, several of the students had begun their Thanksgiving travel early. What wasn’t included in the OCS report to the CSAB was the fact that DPI officials verified all students’ records during this unannounced visit. Again, measuring a square peg, with a round hole.

** DPI has returned on December 17, 2013 for a follow up site visit, but has not provided the results of that visit.  

  1. 10/20 Day Rule

SBE Policy GCS-C-003 prohibits students from dropping an EOC course after the first 10 days of a block schedule or 20 days of a traditional schedule. The rule is to preclude schools from encouraging students doing poorly to drop a course after 10 or 20 days to avoid taking the EOC test. The rule prevents a school from avoiding testing students who may bring the overall performance scores down. PACE is adding students after 10 days, not dropping them from EOC courses; so, the school is not in violation of the rule. PACE often takes students after the beginning of the school year and after the second semester has begun because the students are not doing well in traditional schools. By adding those students after 10 days of the start of the semester, PACE will probably suffer lower test scores. There is absolutely no advantage to adding students after 10 days. Again, measuring a square peg with a round hole.

OCS negatively commented on the fact that PACE had no students enrolled in EOC courses in the first semester of this school year. Years ago, PACE implemented a policy that no students would be enrolled in EOC courses in the fall to give its staff time to assess and remediate students before enrolling them in EOC courses. PACE’s block schedule format allows them the ability to teach an EOC course in one semester, so the strategy has worked well. OCS’ comment that PACE had no students enrolled in an EOC course, while accurate, fails to take into account PACE’s s strategy and practice - approved by DPI Accountability. Again, a square peg being measured by a round hole.

 

  1. Legal Compliance. Slide 7 OCS Power Point

  1. School did not meet teacher licensure requirements of 50% during 2011-2012 and 2012-2013. School had 0% licensed in 2011-2012.

First, according to DPI’s report card on PACE in 2009-2010, PACE had 95% of it teachers licensed, in 2010-2011 had 53% of teachers licensed.  In 2011-2012, the school dipped to 45% of its teachers licensed, but not, 0% as OCS had represented. OCS first notified PACE of licensure issues in February 2012, when Consultant Tom Miller first met PACE administrators. In March 2012, PACE submitted licensure applications for multiple teachers to the Licensure Section. Due to backlogs, and rejection of some of the applications for minor discrepancies, the licensure issue was not resolved until February 2013. During that process, PACE even requested assistance from OCS with one long delayed application in which the request was denied.  Well before the CSAB meeting, PACE was compliant in licensure.

  1. OCS claimed it had to manually validate licensure because PACE had not appropriately entered teachers and students into Power School.

Substantial and multiple emails were exchanged between PACE, OCS and the Licensure Section concerning teacher licensure. PACE exchanged numerous emails with OCS consultant Honeycutt, outlining problems with Power School. PACE emailed PDF copies of all teacher licenses to OCS when OCS was unable to pull information from Power School. There are systemic problems with Power School that caused the problems of which OCS complains, not problems with PACE’s inputs. All students and teacher are appropriately entered into Power School as the NCDPI auditors conducting a head count on 11-21-13 used a Power School generated roster to verify students.

  1. Board of Directors.

  1. Board Minutes

Despite OCS representations to the contrary, minutes were made available to OCS once OCS requested PACE routinely provided the minutes. PACE received numerous emails from OCS acknowledging receipt of its minutes.

  1. Board Composition and meetings.

Board members met the PACE Bylaw requirements. At times, the Board dropped to 4 voting members, but soon replaced the missing director. The Board published a schedule of its regular meetings.  In August 2012, DPI invited the Board to DPI, but rescheduled the meeting to time when Board members could not attend. A PACE Administrator attended the meeting which involved other matters in addition to the proffered training. An OCS representative made an unannounced visit October 2012 to observe a board meeting which had unfortunately had been changed without notification to OCS of the change in schedule. OCS implied that the board was not meeting regularly at that point.  However PACE provided numerous minutes of meetings, before and after his visit.  In January 2013, OCS provided Board training at PACE when two Directors were able to attend. The remaining 3 members have completed their training on-line which is now the only way OCS provides board training. The audit for 2012 had no findings in relation to Board Governance, an area of interest to the auditors.

  1. Legal Compliance. Slide 8, OCS Power Point.

  1. Failure to meet 95% participation rate for EOC Testing. This matter was addressed previously.

  2. Students enrolled after 10/20 cutoff. This matter was addressed previously.

  3. Overall inaccurate enrollment in NC Wise/Power School. PACE cannot respond to this assertion because it was not previously notified of problems with enrollment of students in NC Wise or Power School. PACE acknowledges that it, as have many schools, has had problems with the operational aspects of PowerSchool.  

  4. Graduation Record Keeping. This issue has been previously addressed.

  5. School did not timely submit GDVS data in 2012-2013 after numerous contacts from accountability. Rhonda Franklin was in direct contact with NC DPI Accountability, Angela Harrison, because she was having problems with inputting data due to an NCID/password problem. Ms. Franklin verified the information to DPI via email on June 26, 2013.

  6. PACE had no students enrolled in any EOC courses in first semester. Previously addressed in that PACE only offers EOC courses in second semester.

 

Summary Findings cited by the Office of Charter Schools:

According to OCS, PACE Academy has a history of non-compliance finding in Accountability. Criminal Records checks, Exceptional Children’s, Governance and Finance.

PACE operated from August 2004 until February 12, 2012 without any notice from DPI or OCS of issues of non-compliance. The facts PACE has presented in this response, show that once PACE was notified of problems in any area, the school worked diligently to correct the deficiencies. There is no evidence of a “history of non-compliance”. Indeed, the report of the site visit conducted on May 2, 2013 indicates that PACE was compliant in all areas except accountability. The issues in accountability are failure to meet 95% testing participation rule, the 10/20 rule, and graduation rate all of which PACE has explained that given its student population, EC law and state policy, it cannot comply with those rules.

CONCLUSION

In order to pass Constitutional muster, the State Board of Education must provide PACE and every other charter school in North Carolina timely notice of the allegations lodged against them and a meaningful opportunity to be heard when this Board acts to take away a charter  school’s property right, in this case, the right to operate.  OCS did properly notify PACE of problems at the school in its December 19, 2012 letter outlining areas of Noncompliance.  PACE worked diligently to correct the problems and according to an OCS team that visited the school on May 2, 2013, PACE was compliant in all areas except accountability-- an area where PACE may never comply because the requirements do not take into account the accommodations PACE has made for its unique population.

Yet on December 10, 2013 at the CSAB meeting OCS presented a power point slide show that incorrectly stated PACE had a “history of noncompliance”, presented “concerns” about PACE’s finances and student enrollment, (both raised for the first time ever), and violations of accountability rules that work well to measure traditional schools, but do not accurately depict the success of PACE Academy.  In short the presentation, unveiled for the first time at the CSAB meeting, unfairly presented information that PACE needed to and has addressed, in detail, in this response.  We question whether a 5 minute presentation for any school at the CSAB level is adequate to address legitimate concerns the CSAB and the SBE may have about a particular charter school.  But, clearly the short time allotted was constitutionally inadequate where PACE was lead to believe it had successfully addressed areas of noncompliance, only to be confronted with new issues and old issues presented as if PACE had not diligently corrected them.   PACE had neither the time nor the ability to provide evidence to address the new concerns. That PACE now stands before the SBE facing closure only buttresses the unfairness of the process as it was applied to PACE.      

We invite you to visit the renewal website (http://www.pace2014renewal.com) and read the comments of the parents, students and other supporters before making your final decision as those comments describe the unique, caring, supportive and professional faculty and staff at PACE who are helping students who have traditionally fallen through the cracks in other public schools.  We also invite you to read the letter of support from Dr. Thomas A. Forcella, Superintendent of the Chapel Hill Carrboro City School District who speaks highly of PACE and its mission of educating students with disabilities.

Let us not become so legalistic that we overlook the mission of all educators to insure that all students, regardless of abilities and disabilities, receive a free and appropriate education so that they can become  productive members of society rather than a statistic.   The state motto is “To be rather than to seem”  Looking only at the “rules” as they were applied to PACE make this school “seem” incompetent, poorly managed, fiscally irresponsible, poorly serving students and worthy of closure.  The reality based on the evidence and arguments PACE has presented in this response and the links to the evidence demonstrate that PACE Academy is compliant, financially sound, well governed, successfully meeting its mission and worthy of a 10 year charter.   

 

 

Sincerely,

 

RHONDA FRANKLIN

Rhonda Franklin, Principal

PACE Academy