City school board revokes contracts of several schools

The Baltimore school board voted Tuesday night to not renew the contracts of several charter and other independently run schools — but deferred making decisions about whether most of them would close.

In January, city schools CEO Andrés Alonso recommended closing four independently operated schools and bringing two other schools under district control, after a review of their progress concluded they had failed to live up to their promise. Some had low test scores while others had financial problems.


The school board voted to not give renewals to the operators of Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy Middle School, Baltimore Civitas Middle/High School and Baltimore Freedom Academy.

However, Civitas is the only school that will definitely close, at the end of the 2013-2014 school year.


While the board revoked the licenses of the other schools, they could not agree on whether they should close and will study the issue further.

The board tabled a decision about whether to not renew the contract of Baltimore Talent Development High School, which Alonso had recommended closing.

The board voted to take back operations of Collington Square Elementary/Middle School after its contract with the nonprofit Baltimore Curriculum Project, which operates two other schools, runs out at the end of the year. Montebello Elementary/Middle School, which has been run by the national for-profit organization Edison Learning, will also revert to a district-run school.

It was clear in a series of close votes that some board members, while comfortable with not renewing the operators' contracts, were uneasy about closing the schools — especially after a public forum earlier in the evening, in which many parents, educators and teachers fought to save schools that were recommended for closure.

Commissioner Tina Hike-Hubbard in several cases made motions, with mixed results, to not renew the operators' contracts but to defer a decision on closing the schools, pending further study.

In the case of the Baltimore Talent Development High School, Commissioner Robert Heck made a motion to grant the operators a three-year extension, although the school is rated as "developing" rather than "effective" or "highly effective" in several key categories, including academic performance, school climate and financial management and governance.

Heck's motion failed, as did Hike-Hubbard's motion to not renew the operator's contract but to defer a decision on closing the school.

A third motion by board Chairman Neil Duke to accept Alonso's recommendation also failed. That left the board at a stalemate, with one member absent and another recusing herself from voting. Alonso said he would resubmit the recommendation when all nine board members are present.


The tabling of the decision on Baltimore Talent Development High was a reprieve for senior Alexis Banks, of West Baltimore, who told the board at the public forum that the school should not be closed because its graduation rate is 80 percent and she personally has been accepted to seven colleges, including Virginia Tech, and has been offered a full scholarship to Towson University.

In an interview after her testimony, Banks said it would be sad if the school closed.

"Every student should have a high school to go back to, to say, 'This is where I came from. This is what got me where I am,'" she said.

The votes culminated a months-long and often-contentious process that scrutinized the progress of 25 charter and independently run schools seeking contract renewals to continue operating in the district for the next three to five years. The operators of most of the schools were granted extensions, based on the standards used.

"The board is going to continue to wrestle with these standards, because that is the work of the board," Alonso said after the votes were cast.

The Center for Social Organization of Schools at the Johns Hopkins University runs Baltimore Civitas and the Baltimore Talent school.


The Hopkins schools are among several that are connected to high-profile operators.

Bluford was co-founded by City Councilman Carl Stokes, and its board of directors included Council President Bernard C. "Jack Young.

A spokesman for Young, who has declined to comment on Bluford's challenges, said Tuesday that the council president resigned from the school's board of directors last year. As of Monday, he was still listed as a board member on the school's website.

Stokes has called the school — founded with the goal of improving the lives of young, black males — "a mess." City school officials said they believed the school's finances would be a barrier to its success after a 2010 audit determined there was "substantial doubt" the school was a viable business.

The Baltimore Freedom Academy made national headlines for illustrating the dire conditions of school facilities. The school's operators have objected to the district review, which found the school did not stay true to its social-justice theme.

At the time of its review, the school noted that 15 percent of its students passed the English high school assessment and 11 percent passed math in the 2010-2011 school year. The same year, 46 percent of the middle school students passed reading tests, and 10 percent passed math.


Schools that received contract renewals also criticized the process.

Cecil Gray, chair of Northwood Appold Community Academy, a public charter school that got a three-year contract, told board members in a public forum that his students had "earned a five-year contract," having outperformed most of the schools that received one.