A Barrio Logan charter school with low test scores could get a lifeline next week if it agrees to certain conditions, from increasing achievement to disclosing its finances.

King-Chavez Arts Academy landed on a state list of poorly performing schools earlier this year. Charter leaders don’t think it belonged on the list in the first place, but the infamous label and its low scores have led the San Diego Unified school board to question whether it should keep existing.

“If a charter school is not performing, I will close it,” school board member Katherine Nakamura said at a meeting in June. “This one has not performed and it pains me terribly. … I don’t think it’s come up to snuff.”

Charters are independent public schools that have extra freedoms. They get the right to exist from school districts that oversee and monitor them, but day-to-day operations are up to the charters.

After school districts allow charters to open, districts also decide periodically whether to renew them. Districts can shut down charter schools if they prove the charters fall short for specific reasons laid out in state law. The question before the San Diego Unified school board is whether King-Chavez Arts Academy has fallen so far behind that it should — and legally can — be closed.

School district staff has recommended that the board allow the Arts Academy to continue as long as it meets a long list of conditions, including disclosing information about the financial operations of the management group that runs the school and its consultants. The school would also have to agree to shut itself down in three years if its test scores didn’t meet set goals.

Tim Wolf, who oversees all five schools in the King-Chavez system, said their attorney is looking over the conditions to see whether all of them are legal, including the provision about shutting down.

“We were surprised at all they’ve thrown into this basket,” Wolf said. But “as problematic as some of them may be, if we do not acquiesce, we will not get the charter renewed.”

If the school board decides to close the school, district staffers wrote that it could back up its decision by pointing to its test scores, its failure to meet No Child Left Behind goals and the fact that it was put on the state list. Wolf said that while the charter school needs to improve, it should be compared to the district school with significantly lower scores, King Elementary, that it and two other charters replaced.

The school board is scheduled to decide whether to renew King-Chavez Arts Academy next Tuesday.


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