Chicago’s Urban Prep schools risk losing their charters

The Chicago Board of Education will vote Wednesday on whether to revoke the charters of two campuses of the Urban Prep Academy — an institution lauded for getting all its seniors into college but plagued in recent years with management issues. and monitoring.

Urban Prep’s Englewood and Bronzeville campuses would not close and their students would not be reassigned, but their operations would be under the control of Chicago Public Schools — a prospect Urban Prep officials see as a threat to the future of schools.

Urban Prep is known for serving young black men as well as for its high graduation rates and academic achievement. But CPS CEO Pedro Martinez’s recommendation to revoke two of Urban Prep’s charters says the schools violated the terms of those charters, violated the law and “failed to meet generally accepted standards of budget management.” .

However, at the Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men in Englewood on Tuesday, a different story emerged – one accusing the CPS of surveillance and aggressive demands, effective “attacks” on Urban Prep’s independence in an anti-charter school political climate, administrators said. Dressed in school uniforms, students gathered in the school’s auditorium as administrators held a press conference responding to the CPS claims and calling on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to intervene.

Urban Prep Academic Director Dennis Lacewell called Wednesday’s scheduled vote an attempt by the CPS to permanently end Urban Prep, leaving Chicago’s youth without the opportunity to learn in an environment that specifically advocates for the success of black teenagers.

Urban Prep COO Troy Boyd Jr. said CPS is “trying to take control of Urban Prep. This is an attempt to substitute our success for governance and operations. of the district’s only charter schools founded and run by black men that focus on black male academic outcomes to achieve their own, non-student-focused goals.

The wednesday school board agenda The meeting includes an 11-page explanation of the CPS’s recommendation for non-renewal of charters outlining years of mismanagement of finances, non-employment of licensed teachers and details of the former’s alleged sexual misconduct. CEO Tim King. The king went to court seeking to overturn disciplinary action taken by the CPS against him, which he says in legal documents was the result of a “fundamentally flawed investigation” that led to his forced resignation.

Boyd argues that CPS’ allegations of mismanagement at Urban Prep are past issues that have been resolved and called them the latest of many “attacks” by CPS, which in the past have included blocking Urban Prep’s efforts to s expanded to secondary education and the removal of applications for its school from the downtown campus after the CPS revoked that charter in 2018.

Since then, Boyd said Urban Prep has processed renewal applications nearly every year for the past few years, a process Boyd says is time-consuming and exhausting.

Urban Prep Academy’s current Bronzeville campus charter, which was renewed in 2020, expires June 30, 2023. The Englewood site charter was due to be renewed for another year on July 1, provided it meets certain conditions of financial management and governance structure. , which the board set in February. Its third downtown high school is under state charter.

Boyd said Urban Prep agreed to those terms in a contract signed Aug. 31, past the deadline CPS set in late June.

CPS, however, argues that Urban Prep “refused to provide evidence of compliance with the Commission’s conditions, which it orally claims to have fulfilled.”

Students listen during class on October 25, 2022 at Urban Prep Academy in Englewood.

On Sept. 26, the CPS set additional terms, “intended to remedy past violations and ensure future compliance with its charter, adherence to accepted standards of fiscal management, and compliance with the law,” according to the district’s document. .

Lacewell said those terms included requiring Urban Prep to fire specific executives, pay a monitor to oversee its finances, publicly ban King and prevent him from using the Urban Prep name, or demand that Urban Prep change its name.

These additional terms were set weeks after King filed a lawsuit against CPS to overturn disciplinary action taken against him, which he said was based on false allegations.

Lacewell said Tuesday that Urban Prep officials “come to the conclusion that these onerous, oppressive, and surveillance terms they wanted us to approve were based on retaliation against our founder.”

CPS said King currently holds a position on its Legacy Board and heads the Urban Prep Foundation.

Urban Prep founder and then-CEO Tim King speaks at an event at the Urban Prep offices in Chicago in 2016. He says he was forced to resign following an internal investigation riddled with errors.

On October 12, a CPS representative attended one of Urban Prep’s monthly school meetings and told parents that CPS intended not to renew the charter if the school did not meet the new requirements. . Lacewell said Urban Prep officials had yet to release details of the ongoing renewal process to the school community, and he was unaware CPS would make the announcement. The parents left the meeting after the announcement, Lacewell said.

One such parent was Robert Johnson, whose son is a senior at Urban Prep in Bronzeville. After CPS made the announcement to the community, Lacewell said the school held information sessions, answering any questions members of the school community had. The response was overwhelming support, he said.

Johnson said he chose to send his son to Urban Prep with the goal of sending him to college. Now her son has been accepted to five four-year colleges on a scholarship.

“It’s not a hope, it’s not a dream, it’s a reality,” Johnson said.

“The fact that CPS thinks they can do a better job is laughable, it’s inexcusable,” he added.

One of the CPS allegations against charter schools is budget management. According to the document, Urban Prep began seeking cash advances of its local, state, and federal funding from the Board of Education in 2017. In 2019, it also began selling future board funding for business. immediate money to companies that charged fees worth more than 40% of future revenue. Financial missteps continued, according to CPS, culminating in defaults on debts, staff salaries, lease payments and more.

According to the document, an investigation into why Urban Prep struggled to pay these bills, despite regular funding from the Board of Education, is ongoing.

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Urban Prep also obtained loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, which the CPS Inspector General discovered was received based on false payroll information submitted in his application. At the same time, the program continued to receive funding from the council. According to the document, Urban Prep attributed the error to its payroll company.

Boyd said Urban Prep’s financial struggles began in the 2015-16 fiscal year after CPS suffered budget cuts. Instead of downsizing, Urban Prep looked for other ways to raise funds to continue operations. Now Boyd insists Urban Prep is in good financial shape.

“I would be very interested to know why they decided to renew us during those years when we were facing challenges, as opposed to why they are trying to do it right now,” Boyd said.

Tyrone Muhammad, founder of violence prevention organization Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change, attended Tuesday’s press conference.

“What does the city expect from our children?” asked Muhammad. “Do you want them to be educated? Do you want them to be productive young men?

“Do you want them to be educated by a group of strong black men standing here?” he added. “Or do you want them in prisons or cemeteries?

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