Charter school closure leaves parents scrambling for alternatives

Paramount Collegiate Academy, whose charter was initially denied by San Juan Unified and the Sacramento County Office of Education, and eventually approved by the California state school board, closed abruptly Wednesday.

Parents started showing up at San Juan Unified School District asking to enroll their children after they received a letter from the El Camino Avenue school announcing it would be closing that same day. The letter said the school board was initiating bankruptcy proceedings.

“These decisions were not rendered easily or hastily,” the letter said. “Quite the contrary, the board understands the great levity of this decision and its consequences for all students and all staff.”

The letter said that the board voted to close the school in a special meeting because of financial problems caused by low enrollment and undisclosed issues with a new landlord.

Dawn Contreras-Douglas, Paramount founder and chief executive officer, did not return calls asking for comment.

Department of Education officials had been working with the academy to resolve its problems, said Bill Ainsworth, communications director.

“Still, we are surprised by the abrupt closure, and disappointed officials from the academy did not follow the formal closure process outlined in their charter petition, which gives students and parents more time to adjust and to enroll in a new school,” he said.

It is not clear how many students were enrolled in the Arden Arcade school when it closed. State data show that 82 students were enrolled in 2016-17 and 50 were enrolled in 2015-16, the first year of its operation. The school employed nine teachers during the 2016-17 school year, according to state data.

Because of the abrupt closure, teachers are being asked to make appointments with Contreras-Douglas to pick up their personal items.

It also said that Contreras-Douglas will notify local school districts of the closure and help parents find alternative schools for their children, according to the letter. It said she would finalize all student records and mail out report cards by Feb. 16.

The charter school went before San Juan Unified for approval on Nov. 18, 2014, and was denied. The superintendent said the charter school’s educational program was unsound and that petitioners were unlikely to successfully implement the program.

An appeal to the Sacramento County Office of Education also was denied on Feb. 17, 2015. It was approved by the California Board of Education later that year.

Ainsworth said that CDE officials will work with local districts to place students in the appropriate public schools and to ensure a smooth transition.

Families who need to enroll students in San Juan Unified should visit San Juan Central at 3700 Garfield Ave. in Carmichael or call 916-SAN-JUAN.

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert