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Memphis charter school accused of mismanagement will stay open

Tommie Henderson, founder of New Consortium of Law and Business, addresses the Shelby County Board of Education.
Tommie Henderson, founder of New Consortium of Law and Business, addresses the Shelby County Board of Education.
Kayleigh Skinner

An embattled Memphis charter school will stay open for the upcoming school year, despite accusations of financial mismanagement and a recommendation from Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson to shutter the operation.

The Shelby County Board of Education voted 5-4 Tuesday evening to allow the New Consortium of Law and Business to remain open in August. Supporters said a closure at this juncture would leave parents scrambling to find a new school for the charter’s 160 students, with less than two weeks before the new school year.

Board member Kevin Woods proposed the motion to give the charter school another year. The board will revisit the issue in March, when the district considers other proposed school closures.

The district is investigating whether the school disregarded its charter agreement with Shelby County Schools, which authorized the school in 2013. Alleged violations include failing to pay teachers for the month of May, illegally enrolling employees in a non-district health plan, falling behind on pension payments, and not providing proper education services for students with special needs, according to Bradley Leon, the district’s chief innovation officer.

The episode pitted the case for logistical expedience against school accountability to safeguard students.

“The question is, ‘Is this best for kids?'” Hopson asked during a more than hour long discussion. “My guts just tell me this is not the best for kids.”

However, Tommie Henderson, the school’s executive director, said the allegations don’t tell the whole story.

“I’m never going to say our school is perfect,” Henderson said, acknowledging that the school failed to make a payment to staff on June 5. However, Henderson said the problem was addressed within two weeks. “Employees haven’t had any issues since this occurred,” he said.

Regarding the decision to enroll employees in a non-district health plan, Henderson said: “Our issue here is that we believe we have the right to do this. If it was a mistake, we made a mistake.”

Henderson said he received only one letter from the district alerting him of its concerns.

Board members expressed frustration that the district was not more aggressive in addressing the ongoing matters. “It bothers me that we allowed these minor infractions to continue and we didn’t do something,” said board Chairwoman Teresa Jones.

“I think we need to address the policy and how things are handled moving forward,” added Stephanie Love. “It seems like when we deal with charters, everybody is not getting treated fairly.”

Henderson said he plans to meet with the superintendent and board to discuss the allegations further in an effort “to demonstrate to them that we do want to follow a structured approach that makes them confident in what we’re doing.”

“We intend to demonstrate that accountability is important to us,” he said.

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