TerraNova Academy

CHARTER SCHOOL FORCED TO CLOSE; July 27, 2004; Sun Sentinel (FL) 
The directors of a troubled, year-old charter school hit by financial woes, a deteriorating governing board and infighting closed the school Monday night.

TerraNova Academy in West Palm Beach had too many problems to remain open, said Chuck Shaw, charter schools chief for the Palm Beach County School District. The charter school's governing board voted during a special meeting Monday night to close the school.

"The school's debt is now approaching around $100,000," said Shaw. "Having to pay off that debt it almost makes it impossible to open. They gave it a shot, and it doesn't look like they can pull it off."

Shaw said he wanted to give the school a chance to close itself or the district would be forced to close it. TerraNova parents may be able to reopen the school "once they get it together," Shaw said. His office is scrambling to place as many as 200 students in other schools before school starts in two weeks.

Shaw said he couldn't allow the charter school to open because teachers are headed back to school next week and the school doesn't have a building that is up to code for classroom space. Last year, the school held classes at Tabernacle of Love in Palm Springs.

Meanwhile, the school's founder and former principal, Leo Cardona, claims he is a victim of the School District and a handful of board members out to destroy his vision to educate Hispanic children. Cardona also founded Spanish Academy in Boca Raton.

He said he knows the school might not reopen. "At this point I don't really care. I don't want to be part of that show any more," he said.

TerraNova, like all charter schools, was publicly funded but privately managed. It opened with promise in August. Parents hoped the school would offer a quality bilingual education for their youngsters. But by the end of the school year too much had been revealed and too much had gone wrong. Although the school received more than $500,000 in public funds to teach English as a second language, the school's language program was not effective.

The school's finances appeared to be on an upswing last month when the board removed Cardona from his $65,000 executive director position and eliminated a $30,000 TerraNova job held by Cardona's son, David.

But the school's original board resigned about three weeks ago amid chaos and the board's inability to make decisions. A new board of mostly parents tried to save the school during the past two weeks, but even that new board disintegrated amid confusion.
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TerraNova charter school's governing board disintegrated this week with four of five members resigning following months of infighting and confusion over leadership at the West Palm Beach school.

A fifth board member, Jay Steele, who was absent from a meeting Tuesday night, said Wednesday that running the public school was a "nuisance" but did not say whether he planned to resign also.

"I didn't really wish to be on this board to begin with," Steele said.

New board members are scheduled to be nominated and elected at a July 13 meeting - less than a month before the first day of school.

Founding board member Laurel Cherwin-Salmon said she resigned to give parents a chance to serve on the board, but also because she was frustrated by the inability of the board to get information from Leo Cardona, who served as principal last school year.

"If you keep everyone in a state of confusion, then nothing gets accomplished," she said…

TerraNova has been under scrutiny for months after district officials realized its administration was not following basic rules for public charter schools.

Chuck Shaw, director of charter schools for the school district, said the school has been operating without approved contracts or job descriptions for employees, has never turned in board minutes to his office, and does not have an appropriate budget.

The school also has moved into a new facility without a lease, and it's unclear whether a new principal has been hired or not. According to minutes from a June 1 meeting, Cardona hired a new principal on May 12 without a draft budget outlining her salary, or approval from the board…

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