Fort Lauderdale’s Obama Academy bills itself as a “research-based teaching and learning” charter school.
But the school’s certificate of occupancy calls it something else: a “day care center.”
On Monday, Broward School Board members voted unanimously to start the closure process for the all-boys Obama Academy, along with the all-girls Red Shoe Charter School that jointly operates in the same building, under the same ownership. Board members said a key reason was the school’s failure to get proper building approvals to operate as a bona fide school.
The two schools also were cited by the district for moving to an unauthorized new address. The schools operate out of a Fort Lauderdale church that Broward never approved as a new location.
Corey Alston, founder of Obama Academy and Red Shoe Charter, tried unsucessfully to get board members to delay their vote: Alston said the district was focusing on what amounted to a “minor semantic issue” with the building’s certificate of occupancy.
After the vote, Alston said he was confident that he would be able to stay open, as he planned to get documentation from the city of Fort Lauderdale showing the school is legally allowed to operate at its new church location.
The closure is not immediate because state law requires a charter school receive 90 days notice before a district can shut it down.
Within that 90-day period, the two charter schools have a couple of weeks to request an appeal hearing before the district. Later, they could further appeal the case to the state.
District administrators say that schools, under the Florida Building Code, are only allowed to have 100 students when run out of a church. Alston’s schools together serve almost double that.
“It’s clearly, in my mind, a safety issue,” said School Board chairwoman Patricia Good.
Alston said the size restriction was news to him and that he knows of Broward charters with 600 or 800 students at a church building. Alston’s brother Torey ran against School Board member Rosalind Osgood back in 2012, in what became a nasty, heated race. Alston declined to comment on whether he thought politics were playing a role now in the district’s decision.
The potential school closure is perhaps the least of Alston’s problems. Last year, Alston was charged with multiple crimes related to his former job as city manager for the Palm Beach County city of South Bay. He faces multiple grand theft charges along with charges of aggravated white-collar crime and corrupt misuse of a official position.
Alston said the pending charges are not relevant to his schools and were caused by “a terminated employee who was seeking retaliation.”
Charter closures in general have been a persistent problem for Broward: More than a dozen schools have shut down in the past two years, according to Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie.
In some cases, those closures were a complete surprise, leaving the district and parents scrambling to find a replacement school for hundreds of students.