Beleaguered Placer charter school system parts ways with CEO

Horizon Charter Schools CEO Craig Heimbichner has left the Lincoln-based system “by mutual agreement,” the organization announced Wednesday.

Heimbichner oversaw the charter school system during a period of tumult, most notably when Horizon abruptly announced the closure of a Rocklin campus in 2012.

His separation agreement came with a $200,000 payment, equal to a portion remaining on his contract, in return for agreeing to release claims against Horizon, according to information the district released to staff. The decision is “effective immediately,” Horizon said in a press release.

The board did not elaborate on the reason for its separation with Heimbichner, who has served as Horizon chief executive officer for more than four years. Heimbichner could not be reached for comment.

The public charter school system serves 2,379 students in its Horizon Charter School and Partnerships for Student-Centered Learning programs. The charter system offers home schooling and independent study programs, as well as a site-based Montessori school in Lincoln.

A school closure in October 2012 angered hundreds of parents who said the charter system gave them just five days’ notice. Heimbichner told parents that the Rocklin school site in the Sunset Industrial Area was closed because Placer County officials said it did not have the proper permit for 400 students and that traffic around the school caused safety issues.

Problems persisted through the year with the charter system closing its entire accelerated learning program in December 2012, including a program for 80 kindergarten through second-graders at the Lincoln Life Center.

That same month eviction notices were posted at Horizon Charter School sites in Elk Grove and Auburn, as well as at the Rocklin site already vacated. The organization was behind on payments, according to Group Access Inc., which subleased the three properties to the charter school system. The district denied being behind on its lease.

The Elk Grove and Auburn Learning Centers remain open, although two locations in Roseville have closed. The Roseville Learning Center is operating as an independent study program. The charter system is looking for a new location in Roseville.

The closures angered parents who contacted media, wrote letters of protest and showed up at school board meetings.

Western Placer Unified School District, the charter authority for Horizon, became more involved in the running of the school network last year, “offering technical assistance” for a $160,000 fee. The district agreed to renew the school system’s charter despite an audit – commissioned by Horizon – that showed the charter system lacked financial oversight. It detected vacation payouts to a “select group” of employees that violated school policies, as well as long, expensive and possibly illegal leases.

The charter system has lost more than 230 students since the 2011-12 school year, according to state data.

Cynthia Wood, the charter system’s chief academic officer and deputy superintendent, will temporarily take over day-to-day operations of the charter system, according to the announcement. The board said it would keep parents and the community informed as they begin the “task of selecting a new chief executive officer.”

Call The Bee’s Diana Lambert, (916) 321-1090. Follow her on Twitter @dianalambert.