ITHACA, N.Y.— New Roots Charter School has been placed on probation by the SUNY Board of Trustees Charter School Committee for multiple violations of its charter agreement, leaving the school’s future uncertain.

At the monthly SUNY Board of Trustees Charter Committee meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 18, the committee voted to place the school on probation and enter into a remedial action plan to bring them back into compliance with their charter, the committee approved the resolution unanimously.

A memo to the board from Committee Chair Joseph Belluck states that the school is not meeting the terms due to “low enrollment, fiscal mismanagement, and admitting students outside of the permissible grade range.”

The school was already on a corrective plan as part of a previous charter renewal and had also missed an audit deadline after being granted an extension, causing concern with the committee.

“New Roots Charter School was seriously under-enrolled, serving as few as 110 students out of 160 students in violation of section 3.3 of its charter agreement, and serving only 17 incoming 9th-grade students” reads the memo.

Additionally, per a previous corrective plan relating to the enrollment of students that didn’t meet the minimum age and grade requirements, the SUNY Charter Institute checked records of incoming 9th-grade students for the 2019-20 school year and found the school still had not fully corrected the situation.

On top of the administrative issues, on the financial side of things, New Roots made no payments on its 2018 invoices from the New York State Teachers Retirement System (TRS). In total, the school currently owes $279,000 to TRS.

The SUNY Charter Institute, who oversees New Roots, consulted auditors, the school’s staff, and the TRS and are concerned about the school’s ability to meet the obligations of the corrective plan it is on while also trying to meet its financial obligations to the Teachers’ Retirement System. Members agreed that, while the suspension or revocation was too harsh a sanction for the middle of the school year, that immediate action was necessary.

Chair of the SUNY Board of Trustees, Merryl Tisch, while in support of placing the school on probation, wanted to make it clear to the committee the seriousness of the actions being taken and the outcomes it could lead to.

“Let’s not fool ourselves, once this school’s on probation, parents are not going to enroll in the school,” said Tisch. “So by definition, probation is the first step towards a different kind of outcome. I want to reiterate that I think our obligation here is to the students in the school.”

The school is to be monitored monthly while it tries to navigate out of trouble.

The terms of the school’s remedial plan are:

  • By January 1, 2020, New Roots must submit final audited financial statements as of June 30, 2019, including management letter.
  • By January 15, 2020, the school must provide a plan regarding proposed recruitment activities designed to increase enrollment, and provide a budget for the same.
  • Commencing February 1, 2020, monthly reports regarding current enrollment, and applications received for the 2020-21 school year.
  • By January 31, 2020, a fiscally sound budget through June 30, 2020, based on the current or lower enrollment levels, which demonstrates the fiscal soundness the school, and includes substantial payments to the TRS totaling at least $80,000.
  • Monthly unaudited financial statements as well as all board meeting packets provided to New Roots trustees.
  • By the dates specified in the Charter Agreement, quarterly unaudited financial reports, annual budgets, annual audits, and annual accountability reports for the remainder of the charter term.
  • Documents showing the 2020-21 incoming class meets the age and grade requirements in the Charter Agreement.
  • Failure of the New Roots to comply with the terms of the remedial action plan may result in the Board’s termination of the Education Corporation’s charter.

If New Roots were to fail to abide by the remedial plan strictly, it could result in the Board of Trustees revoking its charter. Charter schools on probation are ineligible for state and federal grants, according to the Board of Trustees, further jeopardizing the school’s ability to pull itself out of trouble.

[The full text of the memo and the resolution passed by the SUNY Charter School Committee can be found here. ]

Requests for comment from New Roots Charter School and Principal Tina Nilsen Hodges were not immediately returned.