After borrowing $30 million and constructing a new campus, a charter school in Palmdale, Calif., has been forced to shut down because of concerns about poor academic performance and questionable finances.
The Los Angeles Times reports that construction had been continuing on Guidance Charter School even though the Palmdale school board had voted several months ago to close the school.
Charter officials pursued appeals to keep the school operating, but the Los Angeles County Board of Education denied their appeal this week.
“We have exhausted every option possible to keep and renew our charter,” the school’s executive director, Kamal Al-Khatib, said in a letter to students’ families. “On August 21, 2018, our appeal was denied by the Los Angeles Office of Educationn Board; therefore, you need to enroll your children in another school."
The facility under construction was to be an 87,000-square-foot campus with a swimming pool, library and playing fields paid for with nearly $30 million in bonds. Al-Khatib estimated the building is 95 percent complete.
With no students, the school will not receive state funding, but it still will be responsible for paying off the bonds.
Guidance was founded in 2001 by Muslim leaders who promised to offer students a secular education and Arabic instruction.
It had opened with 65 students, but by last year had about 900 in grades K to 12.
In 2017, with assurances from the Palmdale district that it was not in danger of being closed, Guidance began work on a permanent campus that could accommodate more than 1,000 middle- and high-school students.
To pay for construction, more than $29.5 million in mainly tax-free bonds were issued by the California Statewide Communities Development Authority, which then loaned the money to the charter school.
According to financial documents that detailed the terms, investors were warned that Guidance had been the subject of several inquiries by the Palmdale School District, including one regarding invalid or improper teacher credentials.
But the documents noted that in February 2017, school system officials had confirmed the school was “in good standing with the District, other than with respect to the teacher credentialing issue.”
In deciding not to renew the school’s charter in January, Palmdale district officials cited Guidance’s lagging academic performance as their primary concern. The district also raised concerns about Guidance’s fiscal operations and governance structure.