This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Students at two Utah charter schools may want to consider finding a new place to learn their reading, writing and arithmetic.
The state Charter School Board voted unanimously Thursday to propose the termination of Alianza Academy and Wasatch Institute of Technology.
Both schools were previously placed on probation by the board due to low test scores and problems with budgets, special-education services and academic credits.
Administrators have until Thursday to request an informal hearing to plead their cases, after which the charter board is expected to take final action in September.
For students enrolled at the schools, it means the possibility that classes will be terminated at some point during the new academic year or before the year even begins.
"While this is a difficult time for those families, they do still have choices," said Royce Van Tassell, executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools. "There are other schools they could go to in a district and other charter schools they could go to."
Wasatch Institute of Technology is expected to voluntarily close its doors and not seek a hearing, board president Jason Farley said.
But Alianza Academy executive director Brian Babb said the school will proceed with the new school year.
"We are planning on opening our doors and appealing," he said.
Alianza Academy opened in 2011 as a kindergarten through eighth grade school with campuses in West Valley City and South Salt Lake. The school touted a hybrid education model, with an emphasis on technology and learning software, and enrolled 397 students in 2014.
Wasatch Institute of Technology, a charter high school focused on computer science, opened last fall in Murray with 81 students. Roughly 60 students were enrolled for the upcoming year, Farley said.
Alianza received an "F" grade in 2014 under the state's school grading system. Wasatch Institute of Technology, as a new school, was exempt from grading.
"When it came right down to it, it was the number of students that we got enrolled," Farley said. "We had a certain number we needed to achieve and we were below that."
Charters run by school districts have been closed in the past, as have charters that were shuttered before opening their doors. And Sandy's Beehive Science and Technology Academy successfully appealed its closure after being tapped for termination in 2010.
The closure of Wasatch Institute of Technology and the potential closure of Alianza Academy represents the first time a school operating in Utah has had its charter revoked.
Rather than a black eye, charter advocates say, the potential closures are a feather in the cap of alternative public schools.
"This shows our system of charter schools is working," said Howard Headlee, chairman of the charter school board. "We search for better ways to educate children and when it doesn't work, we move on and try something else."
Van Tassell had a similar response, saying that there have always been failing schools, but only since the advent of charters has there been a discussion of closures.
"In terms of education in Utah," he said, "this is a very good thing."
The situation is presumably less rosy for the families of students enrolled at the two schools, who are now expected to "move on" as well.
Farley said his school's staff will work with parents to aid in the transition process.
"We already have contact with several different local charter schools," Farley said, "because we believe in the charter school movement."
Van Tassell said he trusts the board's decision.
"If the testimony that was offered by the schools is at all indicative of the realities those schools face," he said, "it's hard to see how any other outcome should have been reached."
Four other Utah charter schools are currently on probation, including Kairos Academy, Aristotle Academy, C.S. Lewis Academy and Pioneer High School for the Performing Arts.
Those schools' probationary statuses are based on similar budgetary and performance concerns as those at Alianza Academy and Wasatch Institute of Technology, according to charter school board executive director Marlies Burns.
C.S. Lewis Academy and Pioneer High School for the Performing Arts also were criticized in a 2014 audit for benefiting from so-called "ghost students," in which private companies recruited online students and collected taxpayer dollars by inflating enrollment numbers at public charters.
As part of a school's probation, Burns said, a corrective action plan is imposed by the charter school board with deadlines to complete specific actions.
In the case of Alianza Academy and Wasatch Institute of Technology, administrators failed to meet the terms of their corrective plans.
"Both schools had missed at least one of those deadlines," Burns said.
If the charter school board votes to terminate Alianza Academy, administrators have the option of appealing to the Utah Board of Education.
Utah Office of Education spokesman Mark Peterson said an appeal would likely be addressed by the state school board during a Dec. 4 meeting.