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Missouri Baptist U. agrees to give up authority to sponsor charter schools

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 29, 2012 - Missouri Baptist University, which faced the possibility that its authority to sponsor charter schools would be taken away by state education officials, has agreed to give up that authority voluntarily.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said in a brief news release Thursday that the university had notified it of its intent to get out of the sponsoring business for the four remaining charter schools over which it had responsibility.

Under state law, the education department now becomes the sponsor for those four schools, which are the high, middle and elementary schools of the Imagine Academy of Academic Success as well as the Carondelet Leadership Academy, which is managed by American Quality Schools. Altogether, the schools sponsored by the university had 4,200 students.

Missouri Baptist had already announced that two other locations operated by Imagine would close at the end of this school year.

Douglas Copeland, an attorney and spokesman for the university, said Missouri Baptist had made its decision in the wake of comments made earlier this month by members of the state Board of Education. In an unprecedented move, the board had called Missouri Baptist to a hearing on April 16 to determine whether it should remain a charter sponsor.

Copeland said university officials felt the outcome of that hearing, and a vote expected the next day, were considered to be a foregone conclusion, so Missouri Baptist officials just decided to give up their authority to sponsor charter schools.

In a statement posted on its website, Imagine School's executive vice president, Jason Bryant, said the company would continue to work to provide the best possible education for students in its schools.

"We are disappointed by this decision and its timing during the middle of the school year, especially considering the progress that we have been making on the school improvement plans. Next week, students will be taking the Missouri Assessment Program tests, and we certainly hope that this news will not affect the confidence of our staff, students, and families in all that they've worked hard this year to achieve.

"Even with this pending change, our passion and efforts remain laser-focused on doing our best for the students we serve. At present, we are celebrating with our seniors at Imagine College Prep High School as they are receiving college acceptance letters and scholarship awards. We are proud of all of our students and their successes."

The statement from DESE said the university “has agreed to waive any hearing rights related to charter-sponsoring authority. The university also agreed to not apply for sponsorship of any charter school for at least five years.”

But Copeland said any effort to sponsor charters in the future is doubtful.

“We felt that it was in the best interest of the university to focus on what our core objective is: to teach the students at the university,” he said, adding that the discussion over sponsorship had become too much of a distraction.

“Obviously we listened to the comments that were made at the state board hearing to get a sense of what appeared it likely for them to do and took that into consideration.”

The Imagine charters were not the only ones sponsored by Missouri Baptist that had run into trouble. It also was the sponsor of the Ethel Hedgeman Lyle Academy when it abruptly revoked its charter, claiming that its continued operation would present “a clear and immediate threat to the health and safety" of the 800 students enrolled there.

Asked what Missouri Baptist had learned from its experience as a charter sponsor, Copeland said:

“One thing it learned is that it is a difficult task to sponsor charter schools unless the boards are doing their jobs and whoever is operating the schools is doing their job. Yes, we are responsible for holding the charter boards accountable, but we don’t have a lot of tools at our disposal to enforce that, other than closing the schools.

“Our goal was to do something short of that if we felt there was a possibility that those schools could be successful. We were not getting a great deal of cooperation from at least some of the charter boards, and we obviously were getting pushed on the other side from the department. It didn’t seem like a good use of our energy or resources to keep trying to fight that fight.”

Officials at DESE did not immediately return calls for comment on what the future of the remaining charters sponsored by Missouri Baptist might be.

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.

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