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Brooklyn charter school with checkered past put on probation

The Department of Education is giving a Brooklyn charter school with a history of trouble just weeks to fix its most flagrant violations.

We wrote in April that Williamsburg Charter High School had failed to make rent after a sharp enrollment decline.

Now, the city has placed the school on a one-year probation, saying it is “in material and substantial violation of its charter, and in serious violation of applicable laws and regulations.”

Those laws and regulations include ones governing management, finances, and the school’s relationship with the Believe High Schools Network — a relationship that the city says the school entered into illegally and must terminate within six weeks.

At least three of WCHS’s six board members are employed by the Believe network or one of the other two schools it operates, according to the letter, sent by Recy Dunn, head of the DOE’s Charter Schools Office, to the chair of WCHS’s board. “Any decisions made by the Board in regards to WCHS’s relationship with the Network would not be valid as those three members would have to recuse themselves; with only three voting Board members remaining, a majority vote decision would not be possible,” the letter states.

Whether the board actually voted on the Believe relationship is not clear: The board met only four times last year, instead of the required 12.

The letter also raises red flags about the school’s budgeting, pointing out that the school’s own reporting put current assets at about $509,000 and current liabilities — the amount for which it’s on the hook — at nearly $5 million. Last year, the school spent more than $15.5 million but only got $13.5 million in public funds. And it only raised about $200,000 in private funds to cover the difference.

The school’s precarious financial state became clear last year when the owner of the building that it had been renting put the space back on the market, saying that Williamsburg Charter High School had not been paying its bills. Previously, we reported that Believe Charter Schools was illicitly sending students to a building that was not permitted for school use.

The school has until the end of the month to supply financial documents from last year and the end of next month to break ties with Believe. Its board must put together a comprehensive improvement plan by Sept. 30. If the school does not follow those recommendations and others outlined in the letter, it could be closed.

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