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NC Board of Education upholds closing of troubled Kinston charter school

Children's Village Academy in Kinston.
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Children's Village Academy in Kinston.

Children’s Village Academy, a K-8 charter school in Kinston, will be forced to close at the end of this month. The North Carolina Board of Education Thursday rejected its appeal for a fresh start, with one member calling it “a school that appears to be unable to pay its bills or operate within the bounds of the law.”

State officials say a lengthy investigation just kept turning up more problems. They say the school misspent federal grant money, padded enrollment numbers in an after-school program, violated state open meeting and public records laws and retaliated against employees who complained.

“The extensive record before the state board demonstrates years of financial mismanagement issues, legal violations and charter violations that have been ongoing, even during the last two years of renewal review,” board member John Blackburn told his colleagues. He was one of three board members who heard the Children’s Village board’s appeal on Tuesday.

On Thursday night, Department of Public Instruction Communications Director Blair Rhodes said that "multiple issues related to Children's Village Academy have been referred to law enforcement." However, she said DPI could not reveal details to protect the integrity of the investigations.

Children’s Village opened in 1997, among the first batch of charter schools authorized in North Carolina. Charter schools must renew their agreement with the state at least every 10 years. In 2022 the school’s board launched the review process for the latest renewal.

The state flagged low test scores but noted that the charter school’s recent academic performance was similar to that of students in Lenoir County Schools.

Reviewers also raised questions about finance and governance, including conflicts of interest involving members of the Children’s Village board. Follow-ups, including surprise inspections, turned up more problems, leading to delays in the 2024 renewal vote. The renewal file became massive, with a summary alone running 10 pages.

When the state concluded that federal grant money had been misspent, it demanded repayment, which couldn’t come from state or federal funds. The school’s board agreed to repay $152,000 in federal grant money by May 8.

“That settlement money still has not been repaid,” Blackburn told the Board of Education on Wednesday. “Nor does it appear that CVA has the resources to repay the money, nor an intent to repay the money unless it is non-renewed.”

“Non-renewed” means cut off from public funding. The state Charter Schools Review Board voted unanimously last month to do just that, and the board of education unanimously upheld that decision Thursday.

School leaders said they have plans to turn things around, but it wasn’t enough to sway the Charter Schools Review Board or the Board of Education.

“Given the long history of issues that could have and should have been addressed — at a minimum, over the past two years — this panel cannot in good faith base a recommendation upon assertion and promises of change to come,” state Board of Education member Jill Camnitz said at the conclusion of Tuesday’s appeal.

Children’s Village has about 150 students, who will finish this school year. They’ll have to find a new school for 2024-25, and the school’s leaders will have to transfer records and assets to the Lenoir County school system.

It was not immediately clear whether and how the federal grant money will be repaid, or whether any action against Children’s Village leaders will continue after the school closes.

Children’s Village is the second charter school the state closed this year. Ridgeview Charter School in Gastonia was denied a charter renewal because of low academic performance.

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Updated: June 7, 2024 at 4:54 PM EDT
Updated June 7 to add information about law enforcement involvement.
Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at or 704-926-3859.
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