Two charter schools that have undergone lengthy investigations by San Diego Unified must fix the problems it turned up, prove that those problems don’t exist, or risk being shut down.

The San Diego Unified school board agreed unanimously Tuesday night to send warning letters to Promise Charter in Chollas View and Tubman Village Charter in College Area. Promise has been excoriated by the school district for a long list of alleged problems, from faulty financial statements to failing to report alleged child abuse. Tubman was tagged with a shorter list of missteps, including failing to hold open meetings.

(For more details on the problems that San Diego Unified found at the schools, read this blog post or read the full letters that the school district wrote to the schools here and here.)

Kevin LaChapelle, a board member at Promise Charter, claimed that the move was driven by “animus” against Promise. Its principal, Jose Orozco, said the school was already fixing the problems. Tubman leaders were also upset, arguing that the school district hadn’t backed up its complaints.

While some parents supported the principals and contested the findings, other parents and teachers rooted for the school district investigations, saying they had backed up their worries at the schools. Dozens of people cheered and held up signs that read “OUR COMMUNITY, OUR SCHOOLS.”

The battles at the two schools have grown increasingly ugly. Last night, a Tubman parent who backs the principal claimed a teacher who is pushing for change at the school used a racial epithet in class.

“Bottom line, clearly there’s a lot of dysfunction going on in this school,” school board member Scott Barnett said about Promise.

Charter schools are public institutions that get government funding, but are independently run by their own boards. School districts are supposed to oversee them from afar. If charters mismanage money, fall short academically or violate their own rules, school districts can seek to shut them down.

Sending the letters does not mean the schools will be shut down; if the charters solve the problems, San Diego Unified could leave it at that. The schools have roughly a month to respond.

But even warning the schools that they could be shut down is a dramatic and rare step for San Diego Unified. According to California Department of Education records, the last time that San Diego Unified shut down a charter school was five years ago, though several charters closed on their own.

Lisa Berlanga from the California Charter Schools Association said she was disappointed that the school district didn’t meet with the charter schools first to try to work out a solution. San Diego Unified, long praised for working cooperatively with charters, has been tightening the leash in recent months and taking a more sink-or-swim tack when they fall short.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter:

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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