Decision to close Azleway Charter School upheld

Published on Tuesday, 19 August 2014 23:22 - Written by Emily Guevara eguevara@tylerpaper.com

The Texas Education Agency will proceed with plans to close an East Texas charter school after a state administrative law judge upheld the education commissioner’s decision.

In a decision released Tuesday, state administrative law Judge William G. Newchurch upheld Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams’ decision to revoke Azleway Charter School’s charter.

Texas Education Code requires the judge to uphold the commissioner’s decision unless the judge finds it to be “arbitrary and capricious or clearly erroneous.” The judge found it to be none of those things, according to a copy of the decision and order on the State Office of Administrative Hearings website.

This revocation means this campus will cease to operate as a Texas public school, agency spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said.

It could operate as a private school, but officials would have to come up with their own funding source, she said.

The decision to proceed with the revocation comes almost eight months to the day after the Texas Education Commissioner notified the school of his intention to do this.

Azleway operates three East Texas campuses at Chapel Hill, Big Sandy and Willow Bend.

Azleway Superintendent Steve Lenz said school has started at all three locations with more than 150 students enrolled.

The judge’s decision was news to him Tuesday and at that time he said he had received no official communication from the Texas Education Agency about the issue.

“It’s a shock; it’s a shame, and it’s kids that are paying the price here,” he said of the decision to proceed with charter revocation.

Although the revocation will affect all three of the Azleway campuses, it will not affect the Azleway boys’ homes, which are a separate entity.

The majority of the students who attend Azleway campuses are under the managing conservatorship of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

This means these children were removed from the care of a parent or other guardian and the state acts as their guardian.

Ms. Culbertson said the Texas Education Agency will work with the Kilgore-based Region 7 Education Service Center to secure student records.

Auditors will schedule a final attendance audit and the state will provide any remaining funds it owes the school based on that audit.

Ms. Culbertson could not speak to any effect a pending court hearing could have on the situation.

“That’ll be a decision for the courts,” she said. “I think they still have a hearing pending in November. I couldn’t say what would happen with that.”

The criteria for charter revocation were established under Senate Bill 2, which was passed during the 2013 legislative session.

The law requires charter revocation if a charter holder fails to meet certain academic or financial standards for the three preceding school years.

Azleway received an “Academically Unacceptable” rating during the 2010-11 school year and a financial accountability performance rating of Substandard Achievement during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years.

School officials contend that some of these ratings are incorrect and fought the revocation through the state agency channels, as well as in Travis County District Court and the Third Court of Appeals.

Lenz said the school’s 2013-14 rating under the state’s financial accountability system was Standard Achievement, and under the academic accountability it was not rated because of recent legislation that exempts residential treatment centers from the academic ratings.

In December, the Texas Education Agency notified Azleway and five other open-enrollment charter schools of the commissioner of education’s decision to revoke their charters. Azleway is the fifth of those six campuses to have its charter revoked. An administrative law judge has yet to make a decision regarding the sixth campus.