City and state education officials announced on Tuesday that they plan to close an entire network of charter high schools in Brooklyn that have had management and financial problems for years.
One day after New York City Department of Education officials declared their intention to close Williamsburg Charter High School at the end of this school year, the state's Education Department moved to shutter the two other high schools that are run by the same management organization: Believe Northside Charter High School and Believe Southside Charter High School.
If the schools close in June, more than 1,500 students will be affected, the largest impact any charter school closing in the city would have to date.
The three high schools, all of which are located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, were founded by Eddie Calderon-Melendez, who runs their management organization, Believe Network. Mr. Calderon-Melendez did not respond on Tuesday to an e-mail request for comment, and someone who answered his cellphone hung up before answering questions.
Williamsburg Charter was authorized and opened by the city’s Department of Education in 2004, but the other two Believe schools were granted charters by the state in 2009 and are so new they have not even grown to serve grades 9 through 12.
All three schools have been on probation since September, when city and state officials issued warnings that if they did not provide evidence that they could pull their budgets out of the red and rebuild their boards of trustees, they would face being closed. But according to state and city officials, the schools failed to comply. They now have 30 days to show they can clean up their finances and management structures, or be closed.
When the state asked Northside Charter for detailed financial statements, the school submitted projections of a positive cash flow that had "no supporting documentation or additional explanation," according to a state document. The school, which has 275 students, has only two board members; the son of one of those members is a school employee, a fact she did not disclose to state officials.
Southside Charter, which has 261 students, did not even challenge the state's efforts to close it. In a letter sent to the director of the state's charter school office, Cliff Chuang, the board chairwoman, Marcenia Johnson, wrote that Southside's enrollment and management problems were insurmountable.
"We would like to formally request the surrender of the Believe Southside Charter High School Charter effective June 30th 2012," she wrote.
James Merriman, head of the New York City Charter School Center, said the city and state had "little choice but to shut the schools down."
"Over the last few months, both the State Education Department and the Department of Education have laid out a very troubling pattern of what is, at best, financial irregularities by the school's management and perhaps much worse," he wrote on Tuesday in an e-mail message. "At the same time, the boards of the school have failed to provide even the most rudimentary oversight."