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State revokes charters of all Imagine schools

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 16, 2012 - The Missouri state Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to revoke the charters of all Imagine schools in St. Louis, closing them by the end of the current school year.

The vote came after the board became the sponsor of the schools because Missouri Baptist University gave up its authority to sponsor charters in the state.

Sponsorship of the other charter school that had been sponsored by Missouri Baptist, the Carondelet Leadership Academy, was transferred to the University of Missouri at Columbia.

At its height, enrollment at the six Imagine campuses in St. Louis had been nearly 4,000. Missouri Baptist revoked the charters of two of them last year and put the rest on probation.

Read the Beacon's earlier story below:

The Imagine charter schools in St. Louis that have not been told they would close at the end of this school year have a new sponsor, but they still don’t know how much longer they will be operating.

As expected, the State Board of Education voted Monday to accept Missouri Baptist University’s surrender of authority to sponsor charter schools in Missouri. Under the terms of the agreement, the university will not be allowed to sponsor charters for another five years.

With Missouri Baptist out of the picture, the Imagine schools it had sponsored now move to sponsorship by the state board.

Board members are expected to discuss on Tuesday the next step for the schools.

All but two of the Imagine schools in St. Louis were placed on probation by Missouri Baptist in December following chronically low academic achievement and questions about their operations.

At that time, the university revoked the charters of the other two Imagine schools – the Imagine Academy of Academic Success and the affiliated Academy of Cultural Arts – affecting about 850 of the 3,750 students enrolled at Imagine. Those schools will close at the end of the current school year.

The Carondelet Leadership Academy, operated by a separate company, also is now under the sponsorship of the state board, at least temporarily. It is not affected by any of the actions taken by Imagine.

Last month, Missouri Baptist officials were summoned to a hearing before the state board this week to talk about its sponsorship of charter schools. But shortly after board members voted to call the hearing, the university announced it would voluntarily give up its power to sponsor the charters.

In a letter to state education officials, the university said it would not apply again to sponsor charter schools before March 30, 2017, and was waiving its right to a hearing. At that time, attorney Douglas Copeland, speaking for the university, said it was doubtful Missouri Baptist would ever return to sponsoring charter schools and would focus instead on educating students at the university.

At the same time, Jason Bryant, who is now the newly named executive vice president for Imagine Schools Missouri, expressed disappointment at the university’s move. He said Imagine had made progress in improving the poor academic achievement that prompted Missouri Baptist to put the schools on probation in the first place.

That move had come after officials from Mayor Francis Slay to Chris Nicastro, commissioner of elementary and secondary education for Missouri, had called on Imagine to shut down its schools in St. Louis. They cited poor scores by the school’s students plus questions about its financial operations.

Under Missouri law, with the withdrawal of Missouri Baptist, the state board automatically becomes the sponsor of its charter schools. But Nicastro has said that her department does not have the personnel or money to assume that role over the long term, so it has already begun searching for a new sponsor.

It is unclear whether that choice can be made in time for a new sponsor to decide before the end of the school year the fate of the Imagine schools now on probation. It appears the state board has three options: Keep those schools on probation and let the new sponsor determine their future, take them off probation and let them start fresh under the new sponsor, or shut them down.

That decision could come on Tuesday.

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.