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Chicago Public Schools slated to revoke Urban Prep’s charters

Students and adults sit and stand in an auditorium.

Chicago Public Schools is poised to take over two Urban Prep campuses following reports alleging sexual misconduct and financial issues.

Chalkbeat

Chicago Public Schools is poised to take over two campuses of a charter school once lauded for steering Black boys to college but more recently mired in financial and other troubles. 

The district is recommending that its school board revoke the charters for Urban Prep’s Englewood and Bronzeville campuses during its Wednesday meeting — a move that comes on the heels of district claims of financial mismanagement and a district inspector general investigation that alleges sexual misconduct by the school’s founder. 

However, citing Urban Prep’s distinctive programming, district CEO Pedro Martinez is recommending that the two campuses remain open under district management. 

Tim King, who resigned as Urban Prep’s CEO and board chair in August, has strongly denied the allegations against him in court filings and media reports. King’s attorney and current school leaders could not be reached Monday, but the school released a statement saying the school district was targeting it despite a track record of serving Black boys. 

Board documents, including a summary of the inspector general’s report first released publicly Monday morning, outline a string of issues with Urban Prep’s operations. The report alleged that King groomed and sexually touched an underage student who eventually came to work at the school — and continued to receive paychecks and benefits for years after he stopped working there. And it recommended that the district fire King and place a do-not-hire designation in his personnel file.

Board documents also say the school has been mismanaged financially for years, failed to provide students with disabilities with federally mandated services, and failed to staff enough licensed educators. 

In a statement, Chicago Public Schools said financial mismanagement and other missteps at the school violated the law, endangered students, and wasted taxpayer dollars.

“The timing for this non-renewal is student-centered — making this decision now,  instead of next year — enables families to make informed decisions about their next step,” the district said.

In its own statement, Urban Prep said it has worked in good faith with the district on meeting its conditions to reauthorize the charters. It said the district is using the misconduct allegations against King to “control and undermine Urban Prep’s operations and new leadership team.” It called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to intervene.

“If equity is a priority in a city where residents want positive outcomes for Chicago’s young, intelligent, Black men then the future existence and independence of Urban Prep Academies must be preserved,” the statement said.

If the school board pulls Urban Prep’s charters, the school will have the option of appealing to the Illinois State Board of Education.

The two all-boy campuses, which have seen enrollment shrink in recent years, together serve about 370 Black students. The state took over operations of a third Urban Prep campus in 2018 after the school board revoked its charter amid academic concerns. 

Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men received national recognition for ensuring each of its graduates was admitted to college; People Magazine named King “hero of the year” and featured him on its cover in 2010.

The inspector general’s office found in a previous investigation that Urban Prep used a loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program during the pandemic to help balance its books, but overstated the number of people it employed in its application.  

Board documents say that the school came to rely increasingly on cash advances from the school district and high-interest loans to keep going financially. The school repeatedly defaulted on paying staff salaries, leases, and vendors who provided services to its students with disabilities, according to the documents. 

The latest district watchdog investigation, first reported in WBEZ earlier this summer and obtained by Chalkbeat through a Freedom of Information Act request, says King started an inappropriate relationship with an Urban Prep student, who was 16 at the time. The alleged victim described the relationship to district investigators, who found that King supported the student financially through college, took him on “lavish” vacations and eventually hired him at the school. 

King’s attorney told WBEZ earlier this year that the investigation was deeply flawed.

During recent school board meetings, Urban Prep students, parents, and other supporters have appealed to the board to keep backing the school. They have said it has made a difference in the lives of low-income Black boys — a student group that has long faced the widest disparities in student outcomes in Chicago and other urban districts. 

Board documents describe the reaction by the charter’s leadership to the IG investigation and eventual conclusions this past summer as “astonishing.” The school failed to inform the district that following King’s resignation, its board appointed him to a legacy board for the charter, and that he would run the Urban Prep Foundation, the documents state.

In a signal of their growing concerns about the school, school board members granted the Englewood campus only a one-year renewal with numerous conditions last school year. The district now says the school failed to meet those conditions.

Board documents say the district wants to continue operating the school as a campus of one of its existing high schools. It will try to retain as many of the current administrators, teachers, and staff members as possible.

Mila Koumpilova is Chalkbeat Chicago’s senior reporter covering Chicago Public Schools. Contact Mila at mkoumpilova@chalkbeat.org.

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