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St. Louis College Prep To Close; Lafayette Prep Poised To Step In

St. Louis College Prep charter school is expected to graduate its first senior class this summer. The Missouri State Auditor has agreed to investigate the school's attendance reporting.
File photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Leaders at St. Louis College Prep plan to close and sell the school to a nearby charter school because of financial turmoil caused by an investigation into falsified attendance records.

Seniors at St. Louis College Prep will be the independent public school’s first, last and only graduating class.

St. Louis College Prep, a charter middle and high school that was thrown into fiscal distress late last year, will close down at the end of the academic year and a nearby charter school will fill the void, according to Steve Singer, president of College Prep’s board.

School leaders made the decision after grappling for months with a major drop in state aid stemming from an investigation into falsified attendance records.

“We don’t have the financial resources to continue,” Singer said.

The board decided last month to sell the school to Lafayette Preparatory Academy, an elementary and middle charter school a half-mile away that has plans to grow. The board also considered selling to KIPP St. Louis charter schools, but Singer said Lafayette Prep’s educational philosophy is a better fit.

St. Louis College Prep opened in 2011 as South City Prep. It serves grades 6 through 12 at its school on the near southside. Founder and executive director Mike Malone resigned Nov. 1 after accusations he falsified attendance records to boost state funding.

College Prep’s board and sponsor reported the irregularities to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the department began clawing back tens of thousands of dollars in over payments each month. The state auditor’s office is investigating.

Before the problem was reported, St. Louis College Prep received $390,000 in funding in October. Its January payment dropped to $251,000, a reduction of $139,000 in just four months. The school shortened the academic calendar and laid off staff in an effort to balance its books before deciding to close.

Lafayette Prep, meanwhile, is growing. It added seventh grade in August and will add eighth grade this year. The school opened in 2013 and is putting an addition onto its school building in Lafayette Square to fit middle-school classes.

Lafayette Prep’s Executive Director Susan Marino confirmed plans to buy the school building but said the purchase and other aspects have not been finalized and so she wouldn’t discuss specifics on taking the soon-to-close high school into the fold. In a statement, Marino said, “there has been an overwhelming call from the community to add a high school.”

“We believe there is an immediate need for a high school program in our neighborhood that would serve families across St. Louis,” the statement continued.

Students and teachers currently at College Prep will not be required to stay at the school next year, but Singer said the school hopes it will be a “seamless transition.”

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.