One day after the Arkansas Board of Education voted 7-0 to close the Little Rock Urban Collegiate Public Charter School for Young Men, school and state officials looked Tuesday for ways to meet the school's payroll as parents searched for new schools for their children.
The board on Monday revoked the charter for the 262-pupil independently run school after determining that the school that opened last July was on track to end this school year on June 30 with an illegal budget deficit of more than $253,000.
The school, located in the former Lutheran High School building at Markham and South Hughes streets in Little Rock, is not the first independently run charter school to lose its charter to operate, but it is the first to be closed effectively immediately in the middle of the school year.
Tiffany Hoffman, a spokesman for the Little Rock School District - which is the home public school district for many of the Urban Collegiate pupils - said Tuesday that a total of 75 students from the closed school had enrolled in the district.
"They were able to go to class today [Tuesday] after visiting the student registration office, Hoffman said.
Jackie Jackson, founder of Urban Collegiate and chairman of its board of directors, said she anticipates that some former Urban Collegiate families will take a few days to decide how to continue education programs for their children. Other public charter schools and at least one private school had offered enrollment opportunities for Urban Collegiate pupils, Jackson said.
Jackson will have to make that school choice soon for her own son who had been a pupil at the charter school.
She said she remains very much committed to the students who were recruited for the school, most of whom were black and many of whom came from low-income families.
"I don't want us to lose sight of the fact that our boys still need to be in an environment that is conducive to them, an environment like what we had at the school, Jackson said.
"Our boys are still in dire need of education but they have problems being in traditional schools. I'm not going to drop that cause or stop that fight. The charter school door closed but there are other doors that are opening that will enable us to help our boys.
"We know now that it works. We know it changes them. We saw increases in their reading, their math skills and even their civility skills. We need to stay focused and get it done.
It was the school's late payroll last month, and not its academic program, that attracted scrutiny from the state Department of Education and ultimately resulted in the Board of Education's vote to revoke the charter Monday.
The school's financial problems stemmed in part from the fact that it reported an enrollment of nearly 600 pupils last July 30 and received state aid based on that number.
The enrollment was adjusted to about 390 students in October and state aid was cut substantially beginning in January. Jackson told the state board that the school's financial adviser had failed to make timely reports to the state, a fact that she was unaware of for several months.
Tuesday was supposed to be another payday for the school's about 30 employees. Had the school remained open, school leaders had planned to supplement the $5,000 they had in the bank with a $100,000 line of credit to cover the paychecks. With the closing of the school, the line of credit was no longer available.
Early Tuesday, Jackson said a member of the school's board of directors had offered to loan school leaders the money for the paychecks with the expectation that the loan would be reimbursed with funds that the school is entitled to receive from state and federal sources.
Seth Blomeley, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Education, said late Tuesday afternoon that the state is in control of the school's financial assets, and will determine how any funds the school is still entitled to receive - reimbursements for funds already spent by the school - will be distributed.
The first distribution of about $117,000 will go toward paying February payroll deductions due to the Internal Revenue Service, the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System and the employee health insurance program, Blomeley said.
"The state assumed all the assets of the [charter school] that were purchased with state or federal funds, Blomeley said. "According to the state charter-school law, all the debt falls back on the school. So the state is not liable for any of that. If we do get these monies in, we'll pay the federal obligations, and then make sure the teacher retirement and health are taken care of.
"The next priority will be any salaries that any of the teachers earned through [Monday], he said. "If there is any money left after that, it will be up to the nonprofit organization that started the school to determine what priority to place the other creditors as far as getting them paid.
Blomeley said that the reimbursements to the school may be as much as $300,000 and could cover most or all of the outstanding expenses.
"Now that the school is closed and the expenses are cut, everything could break even, Blomeley said.
Urban Collegiate is the first charter school to be closed immediately in the middle of the school year, causing students and their families to scramble to find places to complete the 2 1/2 months remaining in the school year.
In 2010, the state Board of Education voted to close the School of Excellence in Humphrey "as soon as possible but not later than the end of the 2009-10 school year because the 39-student school was projected to end the year with an $80,000 deficit.
State Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell said at the time that he expected the school to close within two or three weeks and that the students would enroll in the DeWitt and Stuttgart systems. School operators said at the time that they intended to try to stay open until the end of May despite the risk of incurring more debt.
The Humphrey school was the first charter revoked against the wishes of the operators.
Other schools previously voluntarily surrendered their charters because of financial problems and at least two of those schools closed midyear.
Focus Learning Academy in Conway closed to its 76 pupils on March 31, 2007, citing expenses and lack of community support.
The Arise Charter School in Monticello closed to its 41 students at the end of January 2007, because its shrinking enrollment couldn't generate enough state aid to support the school.
Jackson struggled at times to maintain her composure in an interview Tuesday about having to close the boys' school after working for more than two years to get it up and running.
"I slept good, by the grace of God, an emotional Jackson said about the past several days. "I prayed and I went to bed and I slept pretty good. When you know you have done right, that is all you can do.