West chester when west chester's sankofa academy opened in 2005, polo ralph lauren prezzo its founders touted it as an african american charter school where students would excel under a curriculum infused with their history and culture.
Though some in the district harbored concerns about segregation, those at sankofa saw an opportunity to close the racial achievement gap starting with 400 students they predicted would enroll in the first five years.
Nearly a decade later, those numbers haven't materialized.And administrators from the west chester area school district who last week recommended revoking sankofa's charter say the fifth through 12th grade school appears to be in financial and academic disarray.
District administrators cite a litany of concerns:Recent test scores that show just 5 percent of students are proficient in math and 10 percent in reading, unpaid bills sent to the district's offices, and not a single progress report from the school to the district in four years.
Enrollment this year peaked at 67 students.
"Every time we turn a page or peel back the onion, there's something else,"West chester superintendent james scanlon said.
The threatened closure of sankofa comes as the state's 176 charters half which are in philadelphia are under increased scrutiny.
Two philadelphia charter executives were recently accused of stealing from their schools;One pleaded guilty and the other is awaiting a retrial.
The state auditor general cited concerns over accountability at charters as one reason he launched a sweeping review of the state department of education this year.
At the same time, a growing desire to raise the bar for charters, which educate about 120, 000 students statewide, has led to a slowdown in approval of new ones, according to bob fayfich, executive director of the pennsylvania coalition of charter schools.
"There's a weeding out process that's taking place to focus on only high performance charter schools,"Fayfich said. "We're learning more about what it takes in the application process [to] identify whether a school is going to be good or not. "
Celebrating diversity several philadelphia charters embrace an african centered curriculum, but sankofa is the only one in the suburbs.
When the charter was approved, west chester school board members on both sides of the close vote worried that an exodus of black students from traditional schools would lead to a lack of diversity in the district.Lamont mckim, sankofa's ceo and cofounder, stressed his school would help underachieving minorities while ensuring black heritage was"Not just tolerated but celebrated. "
Mckim, who once collected a $98, 000 salary at the school, according to sankofa's tax returns, did not respond to requests for comment last week.
The school mckim and his wife, lois moses, founded is in a converted warehouse on west gay street in west chester, a few blocks from the business district.On thursday, student drawings hung in a tidy line along one wall of the windowless administrative office, and staffers wearing powder blue polo shirts answered phones as children's laughter echoed in a hall.
Principal chris campbell declined to discuss the school's status, saying he learned about the district's plan to revoke its charter only from a newspaper article.
In 2012, the irs revoked sankofa's tax exempt status for failing to file three years' worth of returns.Its previous returns suggested the school was consistently in debt, as much as $131, 000 in 2007 and $112, 000 two years later.
Concerns about the finances, scanlon said, were at the forefront when sankofa's charter was up for renewal in 2010.He said the district had also grown frustrated because sankofa wasn't providing reports on its students who returned to the district.
The renewal was approved with several conditions:Better transition plans, annual academic reports, and quarterly financial reports.
Since then, scanlon said, calls have gone unreturned, letters get no response, and district staff who visit the school never seem to be there at the same time as mckim.
Without academic records, scanlon said he's had to go"Digging for data"On sankofa.West chester sends just two students to the charter, and scanlon said he knows coatesville sends the most, about 20.
A department of education spokesman said friday that sankofa hadn't filed an annual charter school report, as required, since 2011.
Unpaid bills scanlon said the district began looking into sankofa intensely last summer after unpaid bills from a textbook manufacturer and a psychologist showed up at district offices.
Then in february, according to the district, a ralph lauren home italia $64, 000 bill arrived from the vanguard school in malvern, a private special education school that says sankofa hasn't paid for a student it has been sending there since 2012.
Boykin, who stressed that she was not looking for sankofa to have its charter revoked, said she didn't know the vanguard school wasn't being paid until early february, when she was notified her son would be able to attend for only one more week.Since then, the vanguard school has agreed to give the family more time.
"[Bijon] was very quiet,"She said of his reaction to the news. "He's the kind of child that shuts down, and i didn't want him to do that because he's come so far. "