Overspending Closes Troubled San Diego Charter School
Leaders of the Nubia Leadership Academy have voted to close the school at the end of the year, just one year after its charter was renewed provisionally by the San Diego Unified Board of Education.
In December 2011, the California Charter School Association singled the school out as one of 10 charters statewide that it would not recommend for a five-year charter renewal. The school had failed to meet new academic targets recommended by the organization.
But when that renewal came before the San Diego Unified board in May 2012, members renewed it with the conditions that over the next three years test scores go up, the school become a registered nonprofit organization and its board of directors be democratically elected.
While school district staff had not recommended renewing the charter, their report to the board said the school was financially solvent.
Nubia students made academic gains last year and Bryon Garner was elected as that new board’s chair. The board was seated in October 2012, which is when members were told the school had a deficit of more than $200,000.
Board members hired a financial consultant and eliminated two office staff positions, each with a salary of more than $80,000. In December 2012 they were told that would not be enough to solve the school's dire financial problems.
“The budget deficit was actually tracking toward $550,000 at that time," said Garner, "and it was also brought to light that Nubia was dealing with a negative cash flow problem.”
Moises Aguirre leads San Diego Unified's work with the 44 charter schools it has authorized. Aguirre and Garner said previous Nubia leaders failed to cut costs as student enrollment, and therefore state funding, declined.
Five years ago, the school had about 350 students, according to state records, while this year only about 170 students are enrolled.
“It was kind of like driving without a map," Garner said. "You know they just kept going, kept meandering along. And I think some stipulations should have been added with the charter renewal that should have forced a tighter focus on the financials.”
The district did caution previous leaders about the finances, according to Aguirre, but had no authority to make changes because the school had more than $500,000 in a reserve fund when the charter was up for renewal and charter schools are financially independent under state law.
Once Nubia board members decided to close the school's door, San Diego Unified staff stepped in to minimize its outstanding deficit. Eight more staff have been eliminated and two lead teachers are running the school until it closes in June.
Aguirre said it isn't unusual for a charter school to close in the city once every few years and that financial problems are often the primary reason for shutting down.
California Charter Schools Association President Jed Wallace joined national charter school leaders last year in calling for increased academic accountability for charter schools and closing those that underperform academically.