Garvey Closure Shows Need for Close Pre-Charter Scrutiny

Article excerpt

The D.C. school board's decision to close one charter school taught supporters of the city's fledgling alternative-education movement that overseers can't be too careful before giving the green light.

The Board of Education, one of two chartering authorities in the District, revoked Marcus Garvey Public Charter School's charter in May. The action followed months of struggle with Garvey officials to resolve accusations of financial mismanagement.

Advocates and operators of charter schools call the incident an aberration amid the success of the nationwide charter movement. But they agree the example of Garvey underscores the importance of solid procedures to make sure future charter schools follow their own rules and abide by the law.

"There are some who wouldn't consider this a charter failure at all, just a failure of this particular institution," says Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, a research and advocacy group based in the District.

"Marcus Garvey would not have opened if [the school board] had a procedure in place at the time" for thorough background checks and careful analysis of applications, Mrs. Allen says.

Responding to an act of Congress, the elected school board quickly authorized the city's first charter schools in August 1996. Garvey, one of two to open the next month, offered an Afrocentric curriculum geared to troubled boys.

The first test of the school board's monitoring responsibility occurred in December 1996, when a reporter and photographer for The Washington Times and two D.C. police officers were attacked at the school three months after it opened.

School board members bickered for months over how much they should get involved during the resulting criminal case, which led to the misdemeanor convictions in August 1997 of Garvey Principal Mary A.T. Anigbo and three staffers.

The school board considered revoking the charter that fall but concluded Garvey's directors had appropriately punished the four with suspension and probation.

The board looked more closely in January, midway through the school's second year, after Garvey directors fired Mrs. Anigbo, saying they didn't know how she was spending $600,000 in public funds. …