OAKLAND — In an unusual turn of events, the statewide advocacy group for charter schools is urging the Oakland school district to close the University Preparatory Charter Academy after new evidence of academic fraud and financial mismanagement surfaced this week.

The stance was announced Friday by the California Charter Schools Association, a group that charter schools would normally turn to for help.

Uprep is only the second charter organization statewide that the association has recommended for closure. The other was the California Charter Academy, which the state accused in 2005 of misusing more than $25 million in public funds for spa visits, personal watercraft and travel.

The Oakland school district has already warned Uprep that it might revoke its charter on a number of grounds Aug. 24. Its state test scores for the last two years were invalidated because of erasures by adults and security breaches, and its governing board infrequently held public meetings or maintained records of their actions.

"There were severe violations of the public trust that occurred here. It certainly had an impact on the integrity of the charter school movement," said Gary Larson, a spokesman for the California Charter Schools Association, which represents about two-thirds of the state's 600-plus charter schools.

Larson said the association has suspended the memberships of six charter organizations, including Uprep.


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In a letter sent Thursday to the school's governing board, the district outlined additional allegations: faked transcripts and inflated attendance records. In the case of one particular student, a report card and the corresponding transcript contained completely different course titles and grades, although it was for the same marking period, the letter said.

Uprep reported an average attendance of 97.25 percent in 2006-07, although attendance sheets provided by some teachers show dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of absences throughout the year, district staff noted. Staff also said that signatures on a number of attendance records appear to have been forged.

Since schools are fundedbased on their average attendance, such problems raise questions of fiscal mismanagement.

"Based on this evidence of false claims, and falsified supporting documents made by Uprep to the district, and consequently the state of California ... the district has determined that Uprep is in violation of the law," said the letter, signed by Oakland's state-appointed administrator, Kimberly Statham.

At a Monday night board meeting at the school, located in Eastmont Mall, Uprep parents and students demanded answers from the largely absentee governing board. But they also urged the board not to surrender the charter to the school district without a fight.

Parents argued that with the resignation of the school's controversial director, Isaac Haqq, staff should be allowed to fix the mistakes and improve the school. Liane Zimny, who once oversaw Uprep as the district's charter school's coordinator, is Uprep's new interim director.

"I'm not excusing anything that was wrong. But let's not throw the kids to the wolves," said Janelle Bradley, whose daughter, Parysh Ja'nice is a student. "You have inner-city kids who are coming out on top."

Haqq sold the school as a place that would prepare children, including those who had been failed by the traditional public school system, for elite colleges. Now, the validity of its grades and course credits are in question.

Ardella Smith, 15, aspires to attend Stanford University or the University of California, Davis. She said she hopes the school's damaged reputation won't hurt her chances of attending a top school.

"That thought is always in the back of my head. I try not to let it overcome me, though," she said.

Uprep's board has until Aug. 17 to respond to the district's alleged legal and charter violations. The district is expected to make a decision by Aug. 24.

At an Aug. 4 meeting to be held at the school, the board is expected to decide whether to try to keep it open. They weren't able to reach an agreement Monday.

If the school closes, more than 400 students will have to find new schools just before the start of the fall semester.

Zimny told the board on Monday that many of the students are 19, and would have a difficult time finding a public school that would take them. More than half of the students are in the school's independent study program, and other such options in Oakland are limited, Zimny said.

Larson said that if the school closes, the charter schools association would help coordinate a fair with other public schools that have space for new students.

"It's tough on the kids," said Don Shalvey, the CEO of Aspire Public Schools, which runs a number of Bay Area charters. "I'm saddened that it happened. I'm saddened when kids are uprooted in the middle of their high school career."

"The unfortunate situation is every college admissions officer is going to look at a youngster with a Uprep transcript with questions in their mind."

E-mail Katy Murphy at kmurphy@oaklandtribune.com. Read her Oakland schools blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/education.