Believe Southside Charter High School

The Board of Regents officially decided to close Believe Southside Charter High School on Tuesday.

The State Department of Education announced in January it intended to revoke the charter of the school in Williamsburg, Brooklyn because of what it called "significant management and financial improprieties."...

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The lawyer for a troubled Brooklyn charter school that the city’s Department of Education has flagged for closing made a forceful case at a hearing on Tuesday for keeping the school open.

The city announced in January that it planned to close the school, Williamsburg Charter High School. It had been placed on probation in September after an investigation by Eric T. Schneiderman, the state attorney general, raised questions about its management and finances.

The decision to revoke the school’s charter came less than a week after Williamburg Charter’s board of trustees voted to rehire the school’s controversial founder, Eddie Calderon-Melendez.

In a notice, Recy Dunn, the director of the city’s charter school office, wrote that Mr. Calderon-Melendez had run up the school’s debts while giving himself a hefty salary and consultant fees — $378,000 in 2010 — as well as $40,000 over two years in payroll advances...
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“Two More Believe Network Charters Are Put on Probation.” New York Times, SchoolBook blog (NY), 9/26/2011
Two Brooklyn charter high schools have been placed on probation by state education officials, putting them on a path that could lead to their being closed.

The two schools, Believe Northside Charter High School and Believe Southside Charter High School, which opened in 2009, are both managed by the Believe High School Network.

A third high school operated by the network, Williamsburg Charter, which opened in 2004, was placed on probation on Sept. 16 by city education officials.

All three schools, which were founded by Edward Calderon-Melendez, the network’s chief executive, have been under investigation by the office of Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman of New York for several months because of questions about their financial management. They face possible closing if they do not follow the city and state’s recommendations in the next year.

Cliff Chuang, director of the state’s charter school office, sent probation orders to Northside and Southside on Wednesday, charging that trustees at both schools had little knowledge of their own finances and appeared to have surrendered financial and operational control to the Believe network, which has left both schools in debt and almost unable to act independently.

Believe has also kept city education officials in the dark and has not shown them its annual budget for the 2010-11 school year or its projections for 2011-12, according to the probation orders.

According to the state, although the Northside and Southside schools share a city-owned building in Williamsburg and do not pay rent, they are $161,779 and $117,213 in debt, respectively. Yet the probation orders state that when the chairwomen of the schools’ boards of trustees, Candace Cobo of Northside and Marcenia Johnson of Southside, spoke with state officials, both demonstrated an “alarming lack of familiarity” with the fiscal issues facing their schools, including the schools’ current financial conditions.

“Given the negative working capital position of the school, and a networkwide pattern of significant expense-side budget variances, the long-term viability of this school” remains in question, Mr. Chuang wrote in both schools’ probation orders.

A lawyer for the Believe network schools, Sharon McCarthy, said the schools would work to correct their mistakes.

“Everyone is disappointed this has happened, but we are making a concerted effort to work directly with the State Department of Education to address the issues raised in the probation reports,” Ms. McCarthy said. “I think this is fixable, and they’re committed to fixing it.”

Mr. Chuang’s notices charge the schools with overstating their enrollments, saying each billed the city for 300 students. Southside has an enrollment of 246 this year and Northside has 267.

In addition, both schools have violated state law by having fewer than five voting board members, according to the state. The skeletal boards that do exist have met only four times in the last year, and several of their members have conflicts of interest that they have not disclosed, according to the state.

Information on the Believe network’s Web site suggests that its schools’ board members are, in some cases, also network employees. Jonna Caramico, for example, is listed as both a special education consultant to Williamsburg Charter and a board member for Southside.

The probation notices also said both schools were open for 180 days last year, instead of the required 186.

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