Campus Charter School in Brevard to close

Closure leaves more than 100 students scrambling to find new schools

By Caroline Glenn of Florida Today , James Sparvero - Reporter

PORT ST. JOHN, Fla. - Citing declining enrollment and depleted finances, Campus Charter School in Port St. John announced Thursday that it will close next week.

The last day of classes will be Friday, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.

The sudden closure leaves 97 students and about a dozen employees scrambling to find new schools two months into the school year.

Campus Charter has faced closure before, after anonymous tips to the Brevard County school board revealed questionable financial practices. The school was ultimately granted a second chance to turn things around.

In a letter that went out to parents this week, the school's principal, Trisha Leitem, and board president, James Lawson, said "there are no other options" but to close. Declining enrollment and a "poor financial position" were behind the decision.

"We have exhausted all possibilities of financial recovery, including borrowing, seeking out donors, decreasing expenses and advertising for enrollment," the letter states.

The announcement comes shortly after school leaders started the year with "high hopes" and "peace about our future," according to the letter. 

Campus Charter just this year launched a VPK program in a newly acquired building and expected high enrollment across the board. Instead, student numbers have waned. 

Leitem and Lawson wrote that extra expenses from the new VPK building, a depleted fund reserve and decreasing state income have put the school in a situation from which it can't recover. 

Students will be able to register at public schools in Brevard or seek enrollment at charter schools nearby, including Sculptor Charter and Legacy Charter in Titusville. The school district will be hosting a registration night, tentatively planned for Thursday at 6 p.m. 

Campus Charter, which has operated in Brevard County for 15 years, is a K-6 school. The school employs nine teachers, a custodian, a principal and two office clerks, according to its website. 

"My wife and I picked the school because it fit their needs, perfectly. Our kids were thriving there," parent Bradley Hancock told News 6 Friday.

Hancock has two children each in their first year attending Campus Charter.

Lisa Roller, another parent who spoke to News 6, shared Hancock's opinion of the school set to close.

"Campus was perfect," said Roller. "He's excelled there," she said of her son, who is in the fourth grade.

"Our kids were happy. They loved going to school. We love the teachers. We love the staff," Hancock added.

"I absolutely love all the teachers that he's had. The ones that I've met are amazing," Roller concurred.

With Campus Charter's closure, there are currently 11 charter schools operating in Brevard and two additional sites scheduled to open in 2018. 

"You go through the initial shock, 'What are we going to do?'" Hancock recalled his emotions when he said he learned Wednesday the school would be closing

"I cried, I wanted to cuss and yell but my son was sitting right next to me," Roller remembered when she was notified.

Charter schools are governed by their own board and monitored by the Brevard County school district for compliance with all local, state and federal regulations and mandates.

Financial troubles

Campus Charter School faced closure in August 2015 after its management company misspent the school money, failing to pay mortgages and other bills.

An independent audit by the Brevard County school board found that Campus Charter's board chairman at the time, Tom White, authorized a $24,000 loan to Campus Developmental Research Schools, a private company that at the time leased its facilities to the school. 

The audit also found that Campus Charter was the guarantor of a default $1.2 million loan to its management company, Educators Management Group, under the same owner of Campus Development Research Schools. 

The school's bank account was overdrawn and in arrears $28,817.

“They took taxpayer dollars and loaned them to a private company, dollars that should have gone to the education of children,” said Amy Kneessy, Brevard school board chairwoman at the time.
However, the Brevard school board decided to give the school a second chance and promised to keep a watchful eye on its progress.

Campus Charter elected a new governing board and dismissed its management company, which since splitting with the school has faced more legal troubles.

Both Campus Developmental Research Schools and Educators Management Group are owned by Christopher Glatz,  who was arrested and charged with possession of crystal meth in January. His arrest made headlines in January after two day cares he owns in Brevard closed without warning and failed to pay employees for weeks. 

Glatz and his company are currently being sued by Campus Charter School. The lawsuit, filed in March 2016, asserts that Glatz breached leasing contracts and failed to provide insurance for the properties even though he was charging for it.

A termination letter from Campus Charter questioned Glatz’s “flagrantly self-serving” business decisions. The school accused him of using rent money meant to go toward mortgage payments for “other unknown purposes” and “improper business relationships.”

In a letter to parents announcing the school's imminent closure, school leaders said they have made much progress since cutting ties with Glatz's companies and have been working to repay the debts. 

"They left the school in debt. They're the reason our numbers are dwindling to the point we don't have enough students," Roller said about prior management.

"We have nothing bad to say about the school. We've talked to the teachers and stuff and we know it's nothing that they did," said Hancock who says he'll now put his kids in a public school.

Roller's search is not yet looking as promising.

Her fourth-grade son has ADHD.

"He doesn't do well in large classrooms," she said.

"Everybody's just kind of dumbfounded, not sure where they're going to land. You know, it is what is, we do what we can, make the best of it," said Hancock.

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