The final act in the saga of the Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts charter school may well end with a hostage crisis at tonight’s Richmond School Board meeting. The Richmond School Board has indicated to Patrick Henry’s leaders that it will not approve hiring the school’s first principal, Pam Boyd, unless the charter’s leaders sign a lease that potentially dooms the school.
The final act in the saga of the Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts charter school may well end with a hostage crisis at tonight’s Richmond School Board meeting.
The Richmond School Board has indicated to Patrick Henry’s leaders that it will not approve hiring the school’s first principal, Pam Boyd, unless the charter’s leaders sign a lease that potentially dooms the school.
The deal-breaker portion of the lease proposal, on which district officials have so far been unwilling to budge, requires the charter to provide proof that it currently has full funding to complete nearly $1 million in renovations to the Patrick Henry building. Those renovations, as well as nearly $25 million in renovations to other Richmond schools, are required under a federal court settlement agreement compelling the district to finally comply with the 20-year-old federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
Patrick Henry spokeswoman Kristen Larson says the unfavorable lease amendments present a Catch-22 for the charter’s leaders.
On the one hand, with the school slated to open August 11, hiring Boyd is integral to ensuring new teachers are trained in the school’s unique curriculum when students arrive.
On the other hand, charter leaders have been informed by Self Help that it would no longer lend that money if the lease required financial guarantees for the remaining two renovation phases. Self Help, a national lender specializing in loans to high risk charter schools, had previously promised a loan of $200,000 toward the estimated $285,000 in renovations needed in phase one.
“In theory you could look at this and say signing it is saying we should have a million dollars right now – that’s how Self Help is looking at it,” Larson says. “And Self Help won’t give us the loan for phase one if these requirements are in the lease.”
Calls to Richmond Public Schools were not returned.
The School Board has good reason to seek assurances that the charter school has funding to complete its renovations. The district’s settlement agreement with a handful of plaintiffs who’d sued the district for violation of the ADA law sets rigid guidelines for renovating the district’s more than four-dozen school buildings to allow access for people with disabilities. It also requires new schools to be fully accessible at the time they open.
Violating that settlement agreement could come with stiff penalties imposed by the federal judge overseeing the settlement agreement. Prior to the School Board vote earlier this spring to approve Patrick Henry’s opening this year in a temporary space at Woodland Heights Baptist Church, the judge approved a plan to renovate Patrick Henry in three phases.
Now, it’s left to lawyers for Patrick Henry and the School Board to haggle over whether that approval required the phased renovations to happen in three years. Patrick Henry already has agreed to a three year construction timeline with school officials, but putting that in writing in the lease is the sticking point with Self Help.
The School Board had been scheduled to vote to approve Boyd’s hiring at its last meeting, but Patrick Henry representatives who attended that meeting were later told that deferring the hire was related to the lease.
School Board Chairwoman Kimberly Bridges and Patrick Henry president Deb Butterworth spoke by phone on Thursday night about the impasse. In a letter to Bridges, sent June 19, Butterworth asked that the board add a vote on Boyd’s appointment to its agenda for this evening.
Bridges did not return calls for comment.
It is unclear whether Boyd’s appointment has been added to the agenda — personnel matters are considered in closed session — and Larson says the school board has not responded to Butterworth’s June 19 letter, but has requested the Patrick Henry officials attend this evening’s meeting in case the board has questions.
The stakes tonight are simple, says Larson: “We need Boyd full time; that’s only five weeks before the school opens… And if we can’t get the loan, it all falls apart.”