A. Phillip Randolph Leadership Academy

"When charters close, public schools foot the bill." Voice of San Diego (CA), 12/4/2007
Spending scandals brought down Children's Conservation Academy, a City Heights charter school shuttered in 2007, only two years after it opened. A year earlier, A. Phillip Randolph Leadership Academy dissolved, with questions swirling around its finances. Its closure echoed that of Jola Community Charter School, a girls' charter that sunk two months after opening in 2005.

These schools and two other closed charters owe more than $300,000 to San Diego Unified School District in unpaid fees and property taxes. None have repaid the district. School staff doubts they ever will…
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A. Phillip Randolph Leadership Academy opened last September in rented space at a southeastern San Diego church, promising to deliver free, quality education to underprivileged children.

Less than a year later, the taxpayer-funded charter school named after a black labor leader has been shut down by the San Diego school board. Trustees voted unanimously yesterday to revoke the school's charter, or educational contract, with the San Diego Unified School District.

Audits by the district found financial mismanagement and failure to comply with state laws. The school had received about $400,000 in public money and failed to properly to document and justify much of its expenses, auditors reported.

Randolph laid off all of its teachers in May when it ran out of money to pay them, relying on volunteers until the school closed for the year last month.

Randolph's board of directors insisted there had been no intentional wrongdoing, and that no one had profited. To the contrary, academy board members said, many people made great personal financial sacrifices to start the school, including putting up houses as collateral to borrow $150,000 to cover expenses.

The Rev. Richard F. Smith Jr., who sits on Randolph's board and is the school's bookkeeper, blamed the school's troubles on a lack of support and guidance from the district. Smith also said the district withheld money from Randolph. …

Randolph held classes in trailers parked at the Greater Gospel Center Church of God in Christ on Webster Avenue near Mount Hope Cemetery. It originally served about 100 predominantly Latino and black middle and high school students, but its enrollment shrank to 64. Fewer students meant less funding.

Randolph was one of 13 charter schools that opened last year under the district's sponsorship and oversight. Its staff included teachers who previously worked for the Sojourner Truth Learning Academy, a charter school the district shut down in 2004 because of financial problems. [See HERE]

District audits accuse some Randolph staff members and board members of misappropriating $171,554, hiring teachers without proper credentials and engaging in “conflict of interest/self-dealing in violation of law.”

The school didn't obtain accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, audits said. That means the credits high school students earned at Randolph are not likely to be recognized for graduation or college entrance.

The school owes the district $79,210 and the state about $25,000 for closing early and not meeting its enrollment projections, according to the district…

Smith's business, Quality Tax & Financial Services Inc., had a $60,000 contract to do the school's bookkeeping, but he said his company was paid only $40,000 because the school ran out of money.

Smith stressed that the contract was awarded to his business before he was asked to join the board. For years, he said, he has handled accounting work for churches and other organizations in town, and he got involved with Randolph because he wanted to do something for the children of his community.

But site visits to Randolph by a district administrator did not paint a flattering picture.

District administrator Wendell Bass noted that students were not adequately supervised. “Students entered and exited class at will, sometimes without the teacher knowing they had left. Parents picked up students well before the day ended,” Bass wrote in a report…

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