Local News

State To Close Wake Jail's Charter School

Posted October 5, 2006

— State education officials on Thursday revoked the charter of a school operating in the Wake County Jail.

The John Baker Charter School, which teaches troubled youths serving time at the Wake County Jail, has 10 days to appeal the decision. If any appeal is rejected, state officials said the youths could be accommodated by a tutorial service or GED program.

A state audit found that the school might have inflated its enrollment numbers. If the numbers were inflated, the school could have been illegally taking tax dollars for students not in classes.

The John Baker Charter School is not affiliated with former Wake County Sheriff John Baker or current Sheriff Donnie Harrison.

Last week, Scott Douglas, who oversees attendance for the state Department of Public Instruction, presented the state Charter Advisory Committee with a series of examples of how the enrollment might have been overstated. But Douglas said the record-keeping was so sloppy, it would be impossible to know for sure if the numbers were intentionally inflated.

Babs Wagner, the former chairwoman of the John Baker Charter School's board of directors, said it's difficult to keep clear attendance records on youths in and out of jail.

"I do not think for a minute there was ever intentional over-reporting of attendance," Wagner said.

She said there likely was some neglect on her part as chairwoman, but she said she was not aware of all the policies and procedures.

Wagner said she regrets the state was left with the decision on the school's future.

"It's really unfortunate because I don't think a lot of people understand how much these kids need," she said.

When former North Carolina State University professor David Aldrich began teaching at the John Baker Charter School after his retirement, he thought his biggest challenge would be discipline. But as Aldrich explained in

a memo to charter school board members

, the administration turned out to be the problem -- namely school director Marti Wilson.

"A lot of times when we write up kids, she would not feel that it was necessary and override us," Aldrich said.

He also pointed out in the memo that enrollment numbers were "grossly inaccurate."

"They certainly have an honorable mission," Aldrich said. "It's just that they weren't very effective in achieving the mission's objectives."

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