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State’s charter advisory board votes to revoke Essie Mae charter

RALEIGH — The state’s Charter School Advisory Board on Tuesday unanimously voted to revoke Essie Mae Kiser Foxx Charter School’s charter.

The decision will now advance to the state Board of Education in December. If the board approves the motion, Essie Mae would have the opportunity to appeal the decision.

Essie Mae Board Chair Tina Foxx Wallace said the board does not plan to give up the school’s charter and has hired legal counsel. It could be months until there is a final decision about the school’s fate.

The Charter School Advisory Board described “incompetent” leadership at Essie Mae Kiser Foxx and said the charter has not turned in required annual audit reports in 2020 or 2019. Essie Mae also has not submitted a report since the school opened in 2018. Charter School Advisory Board Chair Alex Quigley said he feels confident the motion will be supported and encouraged the school to “hang it up” at the end of the year in the best interest in the students.

The vote follows an Oct. 12 letter from the N.C Department of Public Instruction to Essie Mae Board Chair Tina Foxx Wallace, notifying the school of financial noncompliance under N.C. general statutes. When questioned about the school’s current checking balance by the advisory board on Monday, Essie Mae Principal Latisha Feamster said the school had about $31,000 in the account with a monthly payroll of $68,000.

Wallace said the state’s allocation for the school would allow the charter to make operational cost and payroll. Wallace laid blame for the late audits on the accountant the school contracted with and said the school provided all the information the auditor requested.

According to monthly reports, the charter began the year with 124 students and at the end of last month there were 99 students enrolled at the school. Wallace said the latest enrollment figure is 106.

The school has experienced management issues since it opened. The school replaced former principal James Fisher with Feamster at the beginning of this school year.

In September 2019, the school was placed on an allotment restriction and “aggressive monitoring,” which was supposed to involve providing payroll, budget and other information on a more regular basis. Charter schools are public schools in North Carolina, and while they are responsible for capital needs like facilities, they receive state funding allotments like public school districts.

The allotment restriction came after the school severed its relationship with Torchlight Academy, a charter management company, because there were fiscal and operational problems.

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