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State says it will close remaining schools in troubled network

A charter school network that’s under investigation by the state attorney general likely won’t have any schools in its portfolio after this year.

On Monday, the city Department of Education announced it would close Williamsburg Charter High School, the flagship school in the Believe High Schools network. Today, the State Education Department announced today that it intends to revoke the charters of the network’s two other schools, Believe Southside and Believe Northside.

In each case, the authorizers cited significant management and financial improprieties. The schools did not have functioning boards of trustees, the management unit for charter schools, according to revocation notices the state sent to the schools today.

The assault on Believe’s management seems sure to doom the organization. But the closures would also force well over a thousand students in Williamsburg to find new high schools. Students will submit applications through a second-round admissions process designed for students who are not accepted to any school in the regular process, DOE officials said. The first-round process is already well underway.

The revocation notices mark a final stage in a series of attempts to bring the schools’ management under control. All three schools were placed on probation last fall and required to take a series of steps to improve — including dissolving the relationship with Believe, in the case of WCHS. Both the city and the state said the schools had fallen far short of meeting the probation requirements.

There is still a slim chance that the schools, which together enroll more than 1,500 high school students, could remain open. The schools can seek a hearing with members of the state’s Board of Regents to make their case for continued existence.

“There are steps outlined in the state’s notice to revoke that leave open a path to a viable future for the school,” said Tom Dunn, and SED spokesman.

Any proposal that includes Believe’s involvement is likely to be a very hard sell. State auditors and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are investigating the network and its founder and CEO, Eddie Calderon-Melendez.

But if the boards — which are improperly enmeshed with the Believe network, according to the city and state — agree to step aside, new management could take over. That model was pioneered this year by Democracy Prep, which assumed control of Harlem Day Charter School’s staff, curriculum, and budget in order to allow the students to stay on.

But state officials haven’t indicated that they are seeking new leadership for the Believe schools, and experts say they probably wouldn’t find any takers if they did put out a request for applications.

Few charter management organizations operate stand-alone high schools, and it is unlikely that many charter operators would be interested in inheriting the Believe schools’ massive financial problems, even if the boards agreed to step aside, according to James Merriman, the CEO of the New York City Charter School Center.

“I’m not sure anyone is going to be lining up to take over,” he said.

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