Imani Elementary Charter Academy

Parents of students at Imani Elementary Charter Academy in Orlando may have to find new classrooms for their children with less than a month left in the school year.

The Orange County School Board is set to vote Tuesday on a recommendation to close the school, which didn't have computers for seven months, racked up more than $400,000 in debt and switched most of its teaching staff, administration and governance midway through the year…

Clara Bailem, whose daughter is among Imani's 73 students, said no one at the school had informed her that closure might be imminent. Although the school has been a major disappointment to her, she said the School Board shouldn't close it in May.

"If they let it go this far, let it go a few more weeks. They should have done it in January, gave the students a chance to settle in" to a new school, she said.

Key textbooks were missing from many classrooms for months and a state grant worth about $160,000 was misallocated. So far, the school has gotten $604,545 in taxpayer money. If it stays open for the rest of the school year, that will increase to $692,082…
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Imani Elementary Charter Academy promised parents a model school when it opened in one of Orange County's poorest neighborhoods in August.

The Pine Hills K-through-5 school said it would have the latest technology, field trips, bus service, before- and after-school care, and two adults in every classroom.

It has none of these things.

The troubled school underscores the limits of Florida's charter-school law, which strips away many of the accountability requirements faced by other public schools. Even when charter schools appear to have broken the law or failed their students, they have multiple chances to improve or appeal, a process that can stretch for months or longer.

Six months into the school year, there are no computers at Imani. Textbooks are still missing from some classes.

The 88 students, most of them poor and African-American, play in a dirt-and-grass courtyard. There is no physical-education teacher.

They make art with shoe boxes their teachers bring from home. And the school is not offering the extra help for English-language learners and special-education students that is required by law, Orange school officials and former teachers say.

On Thursday, students sat down to eat cheese-pizza slices from Papa John's for lunch, as they do most days. They'd had breakfast bars and juice in the morning, paid for by a benefactor.

Orange County Public Schools stopped providing food there because Imani didn't have a valid health permit until Friday and still owes thousands of dollars for previous meals.

The state also cut off the school's grant funding because it misappropriated $160,000 earmarked for computers, school-district officials said…

At the end of last week, Orange County Public Schools sent Imani a notice that it had 90 days to clear up a litany of legal, educational and managerial problems or face closure.

According to the letter, the school must document and provide a repayment plan for the $160,000 meant for computers that was misappropriated from a state charter-school-planning grant, more than $90,000 in payroll taxes owed to the Internal Revenue Service, and unpaid bills of more than $22,000 for rental facilities and food service.

It also must provide missing documents, including fingerprinting, background checks and proof of state training for all board members; proof of employment contracts and more.

 Finally, the school must provide proof of a viable instructional program. That includes copies of teacher certifications; a list of textbooks and other curriculum materials; evidence of compliance with class-size rules; and a master schedule that includes physical education, reading interventions for low performers, special-education services and accommodations for English learners…

Imani's registered agent and president is Barry E. Daly, husband of Principal Daly.

Florida's charter-school law prohibits owners and governing-board members from hiring or advocating the hiring of their family members. Barry Daly would not comment about his role in the school…

As the school was preparing to reopen, former staffers said they were called back in to interview with two new advisers, Ardonnis and Richelle Lumpkin. They also were asked to fill out a survey listing their minimum salary requirements.

Lumpkin is principal of two South Florida charter schools and runs several education-related companies. He also has a record with several misdemeanor convictions, including third-degree theft to deprive in the early 1990s and two DUIs…

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