Midlands school at risk of closing, leaders fight back for the kids

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The families of about 150 kids are fighting to keep their school open.

Recently, the South Carolina Public Charter school district voted to revoke the Chapter of the South Carolina Science Academy due to what they say are consistent academic and financial problems.

The academy was set to go before the South Carolina Public Charter School District and appeal a revoked charter on Thursday. The appeal has since been moved to May.

The South Carolina Science Academy is a non-profit public charter school that focuses on STEM Education: science, technology, engineering, and math.

We interviewed Nathan Yon's parents for this story. They are also board members fighting to keep Nathan's dream alive.

"He had been in education a number of years, worked for different districts and one day he said, 'mom, I've just got to start my own school because children need to love learning. They don't need to go to school and have all the discipline problems, and the intimidation, and the bullying,'" said Jennie Yon, Nathan's mother.

Nathan's father, William Yon said he is worried about the education the students will see in the future if the school closes.

"If our charter is revoked, it's going to be hard for them to go to another school and fit in and relate like they have here," said William Yon.

The academy, which opened in 2014 on Marion Street in Columbia, is also trying stay open for the students who have improved in the classroom.

They say one of those students who has thrived in the classroom is Jeremiah Gibson. Gibson is autistic, but his mother tells WIS that Gibson fits in to the Science Academy more than he did in a traditional public school and through home schooling.

Board members say out of the academy's 150 students, about 1/3 of them have special education needs.

The school board says they submitted an action plan to the district after hearing of the possible charter revocation. In the action plan, they say they have addressed the district's concerns.

Board Chair Rebecca Martin says they have been able to "right the ship," saying they have finally been able to clean up the problems left behind by previous board administrations.

"We've been able to accomplish more in the past three months than most of our predecessors have been able to do in the past 3 years of the school's existence. We have been able to show that we are fiscally viable. We have been able to show some major strides as far as test scores are concerned," Martin said. "We've started negotiating rent, we've negotiated a loan that we have, that the district wasn't even aware of."

The district said in a statement, "After evaluating that plan, District staff felt that it did not sufficiently address the school's financial situation."

The academy receives some tax dollars and is showing signs of improving, according to school officials.

"I as a tax payer feel that my tax dollars are being well spent for these students," said Martin.

But the district says the school is still at risk of closing due to a financial burden.

While officials sort through specifics, the kids are caught in the middle wondering if they will be going to school next year.

Read the full district statement here: SC Science has been struggling with its financial and academic performance since the School's first year of operation in 2014-2015. This has been documented in District correspondence, annual reports, annual audits and annual performance reports provided dating back to the School's first year.

This year, the performance issues reached a critical point with the school's enrollment being far lower than projected and the school being unable to meet its payment obligations to multiple creditors.  It was informed by letters dated  March 14, 2017, January 30, 2018 and February 27, 2018 that failure to formulate a plan to correct the fiscal problems could result in a revocation recommendation by District staff.  The District is not aware of any request for assistance by the school that was unfulfilled during this time, and met with the school to discuss options such as charter relinquishment, bankruptcy, merger and other options.

Nonetheless, the school missed its most recent deadline of February 7 to provide a fiscal action plan, and only provided a plan two days prior to the March 8, 2018 board meeting.

After evaluating that plan, District staff felt that it did not sufficiently address the school's financial situation such that it met the requirements of the school's charter and state statute. Specifically, the District staff believed that the plan still left the school in a position where it posed too great a risk of closing due to financial failure during the next school year.

District staff presented this financial information to the board along with evidence of the school's inadequate academic performance.  Based on this information presented by staff, the board voted to revoke the school's charter.  SC Science has asked for a hearing, which has been scheduled at the regularly scheduled May 11 board meeting.

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