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October 9, 2013

State audit details charter school failings

A damning report issued by State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump has documented “a series of management deficiencies” within the leadership of the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School that “rendered the school insolvent” and triggered its abrupt shutdown last January — a little over halfway through its third academic year.

Citing excessive rent paid right from its September 2010 opening due to a no-bid contract, and finding fault with significant over-estimates of enrollment and thus budget projections, the auditor found deficiencies related to procurement, accounting, record keeping, education performance, or compliance with the state’s Open Meeting Law. And it found that the GCACS Board of Trustees or administration never adequately addressed the numerous findings in these reviews.

“The ripple effects of this school’s closing were widely felt by its students, their families, their teachers, and administrators, as well as the students, teachers, and administrators of the schools that had to absorb the displaced students mid-year,” Auditor Bump noted.

“What makes this especially troubling is that it was preventable,” she added. “I hope the lessons learned here will be appropriately incorporated into management and oversight practices to ensure a solid foundation for learning and to make this the last mid-year closing of a charter school.”

The audit report comes nine months after Gloucester Community Arts — plagued by enrollment shortfalls and widespread allegations of poor Board of Trustees and state oversight from the state — shutdown on a Wednesday in January after school officials had first sought to complete the school year, then the month, and finally, at least the week.

They couldn’t.

The audit noted that GCACS, in its three-year existence, had repeated lower-than-expected enrollment, with the number of students averaging 65 percent of the school’s pre-enrollment figures.

“With lower enrollment, the school’s tuition revenues were over estimated by as much as $571,000 at the start of the 2012-2013 school year,” the auditor’s report found, “(and) GCACS failed to adequately adjust its staffing and budgeting to reflect the revenue shortfall.”

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