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Outreach Academy breaks bad news to staff

By KBell
Aug. 11, 2011 at 3:11 a.m.

Humanities teacher Anais Beaumont cries as school officials at Outreach Academy say they have no recourse but to release all staff members. Outreach Academy fought the Texas Education Agency  over its financial problems but, in the end, the TEA revoked the school's charter.

Outreach word academy financial BACKGROUND

In 2002, the State Board of Education created Outreach Word Academy, which concentrates on humanities and foreign languages.

By January of the next year, the school failed to turn in its yearly financial audit, a practice that will continue throughout the school's operation.

Other financial problems include delinquent taxes, failure to make payroll and misdocumentation of federal funds. The school blames the problems on a subpar financial management system and lack of support from the TEA.

The TEA announced its intent to revoke the school's charter in July 2010.

A judge ruled the TEA should revoke the charter in July 2011.

REGISTERING WITH VISD

The Victoria school district is prepared to accommodate as many students as needed but encouraged parents to register their children as early as possible.

Students not living in the Victoria school district who want to attend the district should seek a transfer.

To find out how to register, parents can call their neighborhood school. To find out which school zone students are in, contact the administration building at 361-576-3131 or find attendance zone maps at visd.com.

Staff at Outreach Word Academy had wrapped up their summer breaks Thursday to attend a back-to-school luncheon on the charter school's campus.

There, they learned they won't be coming to work Monday.

"Our charter has been revoked. That's straight up the truth," the school's co-founder Elaine Phillips told a room of about 50 staff members.

"We have fought this battle so long and so hard because of you."

The Texas Education Agency revoked the Victoria school's charter Aug. 5 after what it said was nearly a decade of financial mismanagement.

While the court case against the school played out during the summer, employees waited to hear their fate.

"It's just sickening to me that they're going to close our school," music teacher Donna Salinas said after the announcement.

Almost every staff member showed up to the luncheon because, a few said, they care about each other and their students. Parents have been calling them in tears, they said, hoping to hear the school would open.

"You saw all of us tearing up," humanities teacher Anais Beaumont said. "Disillusionment, anger, we've run the whole gamut of emotions."

Many staff members cried at the announcement, and they mumbled their agreements with the school's explanation for how and why it was shut down.

"The allegations that were made were very unfair," Phillips said.

"I believe this will go down in TEA's history ... as a horrific blunder," Lorrine Hernandez, superintendent and principal, said.

Teachers mentioned several times their frustration that TEA would shut down an academically acceptable school when so many other Texas schools are under-performing.

"I'm so angry, but I know that in the real world, if I want to impact this in any way, I have to work through the system, and I plan to work through the system," Hernandez said.

Phillips said she plans to take the TEA's decision to a higher court and provide additional documents showing the school has been correcting its financial difficulties.

"We're not through yet, and you will be protected and our children are going to be receiving the standards they are so used to that they will not get at any other school," Phillips told employees, by then crying at the end of her speech.

Staff will receive their August paychecks, Phillips said. She provided information about applying for unemployment benefits but also offered a bit of hope for their futures.

A school board member is in contact with a company that manages several charter schools in Texas, Phillips said. The company could decide to open a charter school under its control and hire the current staff.

They said they didn't know the company's name or whether Hernandez and Phillips would stay on board at the school.

"We have a good program. We have a facility that is ready," Samuel Phillips, Elaine's husband, said. "We're willing to say here, take this, because we know it helps our students."

He encouraged the staff to continue to proceed as if the school were opening, ensuring classrooms are ready should the TEA approve another charter take over.

A TEA spokesperson said if an existing charter were to expand its boundaries to Victoria, the process would take time.

"I couldn't imagine anybody could do (it) quickly enough to open by the time school needs to start," Debbie Ratcliffe, TEA communications director, said.

The TEA said it is going forward with its efforts to collect academic records from Outreach Academy.

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