Missouri university plans to end charter sponsorship

Friday, March 30, 2012 | 3:57 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — Missouri Baptist University has announced it will give the state oversight of seven charter school campuses, raising questions about what will happen to the nearly 4,000 students they educate.

The private, Creve Coeur-based university had sponsored the publicly funded but independently run schools. In Missouri, sponsors are responsible for periodically reviewing the charter schools they oversee.

The university had been under pressure to pull the plug on six of the schools — all run by management company Arlington, Va.-based Imagine Schools Inc. State education officials said the schools were struggling with issues, including poor academic performance and high administrative costs.

"We are getting out of the charter school business altogether," Doug Copeland, an attorney for the university, said Friday. "Missouri Baptist is a small private Christian school that needs to be focusing and wants to be focusing on what it's supposed to be focusing on, which is educating its own students. This charter school stuff is really a huge distraction.

"If they had been operated better, I don't think it would have been the same problem."

Imagine Schools said in a statement that it was "disappointed" in the decision and that the schools had been making progress.

"Even with this pending change, our passion and efforts remain laser-focused on doing our best for the students we serve," the statement said.

The issue had been brewing for months, and among the people pressuring Missouri Baptist to revoke the sponsorship were Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.

Instead of closing all the Imagine-led schools, the university decided in December to close two schools later this year but give the other four more time to make improvements.

The state doesn't have the ability to intervene in charter schools but can take action against the sponsors.

Last week, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced it had scheduled a first-of-its-kind public hearing in April to consider whether to allow the university to keep sponsoring schools. There'll be no need for the hearing now after Missouri Baptist announced Thursday it intended to turn oversight of the charter schools over to the state.

Nicastro was expected to recommend that the state board accept the agreement with Missouri Baptist during an April meeting in Jefferson City. An education department spokeswoman said the state's Board of Education will be responsible for deciding what happened to the schools.

There had been no public calls to close the seventh Missouri Baptist-sponsored school, Carondelet Leadership Academy, which is operated by a Chicago-based charter network called American Quality Schools. Copeland said he assumed another sponsor would be found for Carondelet but doubted that would happen for the Imagine schools.

"No one would sponsor any of the Imagine schools," he said. "I can't imagine."

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