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School Board Clash With Patrick Henry School Continues

More roadblocks for Richmond's first charter school.



Richmond's first charter school is running into more roadblocks with the School Board.

Chairwoman Kimberly Bridges sent a letter to officials with the Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts, questioning the school's finances and its ability to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The letter cites a variety of issues of “great concern” to the School Board, including a recent Patrick Henry finance report showing a heavy reliance on federal grant funding to maintain a required $100,000 bank balance.

Bridges' Jan. 12 letter pointedly questions whether Patrick Henry leaders have met their obligations according to the charter school contract they negotiated with Richmond just six moths before the school is set to open.

Though city school leaders publicly have been positive about the charter school, Patrick Henry officials acknowledge that there's resistance within the city school administration and from Mayor Dwight Jones.

On the same day Bridges' letter was sent to Patrick Henry, she sat in on soon-to-be-Gov. Bob McDonnell's news conference announcing his new secretary of education, Gerard Robinson. Acknowledging McDonnell's commitment to expanding charter schools in Virginia — Robinson is a national expert on such schools — Bridges says she hopes Patrick Henry School can serve as a resource to McDonnell's administration.

This latest letter is a bombshell, Patrick Henry School spokeswoman Kristen Larson says, but “we're not surprised.” School leaders held an emergency meeting last week to discuss how to answer Bridges' charges.

Larson says the school's finances are in order — an e-mail from the U.S. Department of Education indicates that the grant funding is functionally a line of credit that can be drawn upon to pay its bills as they come due.

As for the city's disability-act objections, Troutman Sanders, which is doing pro-bono work for the school, has advised that the current phased plan meets federal legal requirements.

Larson says she was aware of McDonnell's most recent support for Patrick Henry, which he mentioned by name during his Robinson announcement.

“Were excited McDonnell reached out to us during the campaign,” Larson says. “He took a tour of the school. He said, ‘This is what I want to see in education in the state of Virginia.'”

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