Clouds over charter's staff: 11 accused of crimes (The Denver Post, May 13, 2008)
An assistant principal was busted with a crack pipe, a security guard pleaded guilty to soliciting a prostitute and a teacher is on probation for beating up his girlfriend.
Challenges, Choices and Images Literacy and Technology Learning Center Charter School in northeast Denver is coming under increased scrutiny by Denver Public Schools for its hiring practices, financial troubles and academic woes.
Denver's school board met Monday night in executive session to discuss the charter school, which by Thursday must show the board detailed plans of how it plans to improve.
"The bottom line is, from my perspective, is we are very concerned about the (600) kids in the building," said board member Kevin Patterson, who represents the area.
The district recently launched an investigation into the school after a former employee complained about employees having criminal pasts.
Eleven employees have been accused of crimes — though two of the cases were dismissed.
All of the convictions were on misdemeanor charges or less. Some of the cases involve drug charges, theft and assault.
"We do not require them to have a perfectly clean history, even though, as part of their hiring requirements, they must demonstrate the ability to rehabilitate themselves," said Principal Carolyn Jones, who wrote a letter last week to the board and DPS Superintendent Michael Bennet.
• Earl Armstrong, 41, hired in September as a teacher, is a community activist with various and numerous convictions on his record. Last year, he was found guilty at trial of third-degree assault and sentenced to probation and community service after beating up his girlfriend.
• William H. Brown, 55, the school's assistant principal, was arrested in December 2005 after police allegedly spotted him buying crack in an alley, according to an arrest report. Brown later pleaded "no contest" to having a crack pipe, according to county records.
• Phillip Lugu, 36, a security guard, pleaded guilty in 1999 to soliciting a prostitute and was guilty of shoplifting in 2001.
Eight other teachers and employees had brushes with the law, according to Jones' letter, including traffic violations, domestic violence and theft under $500.
Two cases were dismissed, one guard has resigned and a manager was fired.
The district requires the school to screen all of its employees against the Colorado Department of Education's database for teaching credentials and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation's criminal database.
"I've done the investigating," Jones told The Denver Post last week. "I didn't find any issues. . . . There is a lot of clamor going on about this. It's all these rumors. I've got some teachers who are scared and don't want their reputations ruined."
State law bars those with felony records from teaching.
Denver Public Schools runs its employees through state and federal criminal databases and will not hire anyone with criminal pasts involving drugs, crimes against people or theft, said DPS spokesman Alex Sanchez.
Charter schools operate under different rules than the district's. State law or district rules do not prohibit them from hiring staffers with misdemeanors in their past, said Jim Griffin, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools.
"This is an area of judgment," he said. "If nothing was flagged, it probably meets the law. That's for a school to decide."
The school has 65 employees and roughly 600 kids from kindergarten to 12th grade. It is under a one-year probation by the school district to improve its academic standing as it has suffered from low achievement over the past two years.
Questions have been raised about the school's financial health.
A recent audit shows the school failed to report $73,000 in bond and capital construction payments in its budget. Next year, the school will begin paying on a $39.1 million bond for the financing of the building it remodeled and moved into in August.
District officials also are purportedly investigating a $500,000 loan the school secured to help start an independently operated child-care center — the CCI Montessori Child Development Center.
Jones, the school's principal, said she has heard only rumors about the district's unease with the loan.
"As to the commingling of funds, the school has never done that," she writes. "We have, however, made loans to the Montessori day-care center as an attempt to get them open in a timely manner."