Parents of Kauffman Leadership Academy students voiced their opinions about the school’s closure on Wednesday night with Texas Education Agency officials.
The TEA revoked the charter for the school, Johnson County’s first and only public charter school, and KLA will close its doors on Friday. They plan on keeping its homeschool program and possibly creating a private school in the future.
Emotions were high and at times conversations were heated when parents voiced their concerns about the school’s closure to TEA officials.
TEA Division of Charter School Administration Director Heather Mauzé hosted the meeting and said there were many reasons why the charter was revoked, including both financially and academically.
“Our action was predicated on the fiscal insolvency,” Mauzé said. “We received notice from the IRS. The concern was based on the financials that if there was something that happened out of the norm of operations that this charter school would not be able to stay opening for another month.”
When the school was first approved its charter, she said she was an advocate for the campus because it was the only charter school in Johnson County since the closest ones were within a 30-mile radius in the Fort Worth area.
“It had a unique educational plan, a unique approach to serving students,” she said. “We hoped beyond hope that this would become successful. ... As I said, I was an advocate for this charter when I read the application.”
TEA officials met with KLA administration when they first opened about some financial concerns they had about the school, she said.
“We had some conversations around some best practices,” she said. “[We] tried to provide resources for them at that time.”
Kauffman’s husband, Greg Kauffman who’s also the school’s operations and development director, said they initiated a turnaround plan this year and asked why the school is still closing.
“So the revocation of the charter, there is no stopping of the revocation of the charter,” Mauzé said. “The charter met the threshold for revocation for low performing academics.”
Greg Kauffman said provisions in the turnaround plan that the Texas Education Commissioner may not close that school for three years after they begin the turnaround plan.
“We’re just starting it this year,” he said. “Where is that justification? You just forgot about that process?”
Mauzé said she didn’t forget.
“I will say that the turnaround plan that’s in chapter 39 is not aligned to the same provisions in chapter 12,” she said. “That’s if you have three low performing years, we revoke you. The second year of low performance, the implementation of that turnaround plan should net some results. However, this charter school — and I’m truly happy that children are thriving emotionally here — but academically the charter school has not been performing though.”
Parents said their children are performing well at KLA and are receiving higher grades than when they attended other public school districts and asked why the TEA is only looking at the KLA numbers and not the other ISD numbers.
“In my role at the agency, my job is to make sure that the state portfolio charter schools are serving students well,” Mauzé said. “I don’t look at the ISDs that the children have come from. ... I hope what you hear more than anything over our conversation tonight, I hope to maintain a calm conversation about this and how we’re trying to do what’s right in terms of the students academically at this charter school.”
Many parents said their children were thriving at KLA and performing well in class academically and socially. Before they attended KLA, their children were bullied and “fell through the cracks” at other districts because they allegedly didn’t care about them, parents said.
Finances and academics were the two main concerns that led to the closure of the school, Mauzé said.
“The fiscal insolvency was the concern,” she said. “The cash flows did not support that the charter school could remain open until the end of the year. Our concern was the charter school would then be a position to close without an orderly wind-down of operations. So we were trying to mitigate as best we can the impact to students.”
Greg Kauffman said they were rated “exemplary” by their auditor.
“There’s never been any secret of us owing money to the IRS,” he said. “We have paid payroll taxes for several years. There was a levy twice put on for two days, and we immediately got it removed. Payroll was never in jeopardy. In fact, after paying payroll and paying the IRS we still had money left in the bank.
“You’re making statements that don’t even match the truth even one bit. We’ve never failed payroll. No one never got their check. We’ve never been insolvent. Water’s never been off. Electricity’s never been off. We fed our kids for free every single day.”
Mauzé said the review of KLA’s cash flow statements, audit reviews and reviews of fiscal practices have been a concern for many years.
“The levies that the IRS placed on you, whether or not that resulted in teachers ultimately getting their paychecks, was an indication that we had some financial issues,” she said. “The fact that you're on a payment plan with the IRS, that is going to be difficult. Why weren’t those kept up with?
“There are questions that we asked at the hearing, and the agency did not receive the documentation or the assurance that we needed to ensure that there was going to be barring a catastrophe or something happening based on the financials that you gave us.”
There’s a reason why Texas is at the bottom of the list compared to other states when it comes to education, Greg Kauffman said.
“You guys fail to see the heart of education,” he said. “You’re so caught up with the score. You’re so caught up with if it’s not here today or two days late you get an automatic F. That’s not the heart of education. These people didn’t come here for fun. They came here to tell you that we are doing something special. You guys don’t see that.”
Parents asked why they weren’t informed about this closure before now.
“As you were speaking, I’ve been reflecting and maybe we should have come out and conducted a parent meeting,” Mauzé said. “But we give autonomy to charter schools. Part of that autonomy is running their school. I have had conversations with Dr. [Theresa] Kauffman about the school, about the academics, about the enrollment [and] about the fiances.
“But you bring up a very important point that my office might need to look at coming out earlier to ensure there is communication from the agency and not relying on the administration to convey the information.”
Some students voiced their concerns about the closure and asked what they could do to ensure something like this couldn’t happen to other schools in the future.
Mauzé encouraged them to get involved in the State Legislature and talk to their local lawmakers.
“So the students who are in the school, the students who are in all public schools take tests,” she said. “Those tests generate academic ratings. Those ratings are attributed to campuses and districts and charter schools.
“So the laws regarding that and the weight they carry, that is what we are implementing. And so if you’re upset about that then yes is the answer, those laws need to be changed.”
Parents asked if there was an appeal process they could go through to stop the closure of the school.
Mauzé said the Kauffmans have already had many hearing with the Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings, which is the last body to make decisions regarding this situation. There is also a formal complaint process that parents can follow to voice their concerns and opinions on the TEA’s website.
She encouraged parents to research the other school resources their children could enroll in, including other charter schools, private schools, homeschool programs and local ISDs.
Greg Kauffman said there are 45 students who have signed up to participate in their homeschool program and encouraged other students to join as well.
In a letter from the TEA addressed to Superintendent/CEO Theresa Kauffman and board President Joe Davis sent to the Times-Review on Monday, agency officials said the order to suspend the school from operations was as a result of the “financial situation at the charter school having deteriorated significantly, including federal tax liens and levies issues by the IRS that had frozen all accounts of the charter school.”
The school opened its doors in August 2016 and has 91 fifth- through 12th-graders and 14 teachers. Classes are held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday with 200 days in the calendar year, which is longer than the average public school district.
KLA received a Substandard Achievement rating in November when the TEA released the final financial accountability ratings. Created by the 77th Texas Legislature in 2001, the School Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas is designed to encourage public schools to better manage their financial resources to provide the maximum allocation possible for direct instructional purposes, according to the TEA.
The 2018-19 ratings are based on annual financial reports provided to TEA by districts and charters from the 2018 fiscal year. The financial accountability system requires TEA to review the audited financial reports from all districts and charters.
In August, KLA received a F — 51 — compared to “improvement required” last year when the TEA released the 2019 state accountability ratings.
During the 85th Texas Legislature, House Bill 22 established three domains for measuring the academic performance of districts and campuses: student achievement, school progress and closing the gaps. Districts receive a rating of A, B, C, D or F for overall performance, as well as performance in each domain.
After completing its first semester, Kauffman said the school was headed in the right direction after some bumps in the road.
In September 2016, the school was waiting for the TEA to award the school a start-up grant to pay teachers’ salaries for $360,000 and purchase equipment for the science labs and physical education classes. The securing of a line of credit through Frost Bank allowed the school to make payroll and remain open until state funding dollars arrived later.