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N. Mpls Charter School Closing Amid Allegations

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(credit: CBS) Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 year...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A few months ago, it seemed to be a great success story, but now a charter school in north Minneapolis is closing amid bitter feelings and allegations.

Back in January, we told you about big honors for the Minnesota School of Science.

Its robotics class finished second in the state and school-wide test scores were up dramatically.

But now MSS has lost its lease after two years of operation and the Minneapolis Public School District is looking to open a different school in the same building.

The district is suspicious of those high test scores, and whether they may have been inflated.

At the same time, the school fell $530,000 short in payments to the district.

But parents and school leaders say there’s more to the story.

“It’s not about money,” said Dr. Rosilyn Carroll, vice chair of the MSS board. “Don’t let them fool you, it’s not about money. It’s about egos, it’s about adults, and it’s definitely not about children.”

Carroll was among dozens of protesters who gathered outside the school as the district held an informational meeting.

It was designed to let parents know about their options, now that MSS is being forced out of its home of the past two years on North 4th Street.

“We want to stay in this building,” said Gene Scapanski, one of the original members of the founding board, “and we want to stay serving these families.”

The charter school opened in 2011, vowing to prepare “tomorrow’s doctors, scientists and engineers” from a low-income section of the city.

Maile Vue has two daughters who attended the school.

“We want the quality education our children are getting right now.” she said. “And we know that MSS is working for our children.”

In two years, the school boasted significant achievement gains in math and science scores.

Zephaniah Roberts, 12, said he liked the fact that staff members were strict and kept students focused on their studies.

“Other schools, they’re sort of OK,” he said. “Seemed like they don’t really care, but this school really cares about my education.”

Stan Alleyne, chief communications officer for Minneapolis Public Schools, said there have been “irregularities” in some of the school’s testing.

“There’s an investigation,” he said, “and I really can’t get into all of the details, but any time there’s a question about that, it’s just another red flag.”

The bigger red flag for the district was the shortfall of more than a half million dollars.

“It impacts our district, it impacts taxpayers,” he said. “When we’re not receiving those funds, those funds could be going to other places in the city.”

The funds were supposed to come from the state, and then get passed along to the Minneapolis Public School district, but the state stopped paying because of the way the school’s lease was structured.

The fact that the Minneapolis Public School District not only held the lease but also authorized it was considered a conflict of interest.

The two sides were not able to reach agreement on setting up a different authorizer.

The district won’t give specifics about the testing irregularities being investigated, but Scapanski said there were just a few isolated incidents.

He said a teacher was disciplined after improperly talking to a student during testing, which meant the school threw out the scores for the entire class.

He also said there were also reports of students leaving together during a test to go to the bathroom.

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