State charter board votes to close Beehive academy

Money matters» State governing body concludes that the school is financially unstable.
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For the first time in its six-year history, the Utah Charter School Board has voted to revoke an operational school's charter.

Beehive Science & Technology Academy in Holladay will close after this school year unless it files and wins an appeal. Any appeal would be heard by the Utah Board of Education.

The charter board, which voted 6-0 on Thursday to close the school, said Beehive doesn't have enough students to be financially viable and is burdened by debt. The enrollment currently is 199, but the school could accommodate 250 students.

In an e-mail, Principal Murat Biyik said the board relied on outdated financial statements to make its decision and that the school plans to appeal.

"All of us were totally shocked" by the board's decision, Biyik wrote, noting he was denied permission to speak at the meeting. "We are very optimistic that we will save the school during [the] appeal process."

Beehive was placed on a one-year probation in February, and Biyik said the school has complied with or made "substantial improvements" on all the issues the board identified. For example, the school has addressed concerns with its special-education program.

Charter board chairman Brian Allen said the decision made him "heart sick" because he knows Beehive's students like their school, which has a good academic record.

"At the end of the day, we had to weigh the impact to the students who go to the school against our responsibility that taxpayers are getting the best deal for their money," Allen said. "The scale tipped toward taxpayers."

Beehive, which serves grades 7 through 12, was founded by a group of Turkish-American scholars. It opened in August 2005.

Last fall, the charter board, after a months-long investigation, cleared Beehive of allegations the school existed to advance and promote Islamic beliefs but flagged it for poor financial management. Charter schools are tuition-free, tax-funded public schools so they must be nonsectarian.

In November, records obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune showed that the school, operating on a $2 million annual budget, had a $337,000 deficit. The school renegotiated its building lease and laid off several staffers.

On Thursday, Biyik said the deficit has shrunk substantially. Currently, the school has an income balance of $259,000 with $38,000 in the bank, he said. The difference has been used to pay off credit lines, a state revolving loan amount and other debts, Biyik said. The academy still owes money on the revolving loan, which originally was $184,000.

But if the board's decision sticks, Beehive students will have to find a new school for the 2010-11 school year.

"It's the most frustrating thing. I don't know where to send my son," said Marie Jess, whose son Jordan started at Beehive as a seventh-grader and now is finishing 11th grade. "I've never found a [public or charter] school that I felt compared to Beehive."

Jess called the board's decision "unfair." She hopes the school, which has achieved high scores on state academic tests, stays open.

She likes the support she receives from Beehive's faculty, who frequently send her e-mails to update her on how her son is doing.

"I felt like they personally wanted my son to succeed," she said, "and that's a good feeling."