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Wake Jail's Charter School Under State Scrutiny

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RALEIGH, N.C. — By serving inmates at the Wake County jail, the John Baker Charter High School operates, by its very nature, with a revolving door of students. But a series of complaints from teachers forced the state Office of Charter Schools to investigate its actual enrollment.

"The school would not be able to pass an audit if one were completed," said Scott Douglass, who oversees attendance with the state Department of Public Instruction. "It was unauditable."

John Baker Charter School Report

An audit conducted this summer shows attendance records may have been falsified, oversight was neglected and students attended school for one class a day.

Douglass presented the state Charter School Advisory Committee with a series of examples that showed how enrollment might have been inflated. If that's the case, the school is illegally taking tax dollars for students who don't exist.

However, Douglass said the record keeping was so sloppy it would be impossible to know for sure. The state found that the school's board of directors has little to no oversight.

"The board of directors was not aware of their responsibility," said charter school consultant Jean Kruft.

Kathy Taft, the liason for the Charter School Advisory Committtee, said, "I cannot imagine how we got to this point" when responding to the information that the John Baker school was operating an unauthorized alternative school for inmates who were released outside the jail. The original charter does not allow the school to operate outside the jail.

When a member of the advisory committee asked Baker director Marti Wilson if she was running the show, Wilson said, "Some of the time, yes."

Babs Wagner, the former John Baker board of directors chairperson, admitted she was in over her head and did not realize the board's responsibility. She says she signed budgets prepared by Marti Wilson without ever reading them.

Budgets and direction are Wilson's job as the school's part-time director. She blamed bad paperwork for the problems and says the school can improve.

The Charter School Advisory Committee voted to have the school prepare a corrective plan of action that will be due back in November. But the director of charter schools, Jack Moyer, laid out a clear warning that the school's days may be numbered.

"I know it's a tough decision, but sometimes you have to cut the cancer and that's a decision you should make," said Moyer.

The state only allows 100 charter schools, and there are currently 100 charter schools in operation. Moyer said with 3,000 students on wait lists for charter schools in Wake County, the charter should be revoked to free up a spot. He said education for inmates could be handled with GED programs or tutoring.

Harry Wilson, the attorney for the state Board of Education, said if it's proven that enrollment was inflated, any criminal action would have to be taken up by the board.

Former Wake County Sheriff John Baker, for whom the school is named, had no comment on the audit, saying he is no longer affiliated with the school.