Debbie Pfeiffer Trunnell, Staff Writer
Posted: 02/19/2011 07:12:25 AM PST

SAN BERNARDINO- In the 11 years it has been in existence, the Public Safety Academy has had academic success and earned positive recognition from the community.

But behind the scenes there have been problems. According to information released at this week’s San Bernardino City Unified school board meeting, the charter school is in financial trouble.

“The school does well academically, but there are some serious financial concerns, and it is our duty to watch these charters,” said board member Teresa Parra-Craig.

The school, operating as a charter approved by the district, came under closer scrutiny after failing to repay a $250,000 loan by June 2010.

As a result of this and other concerns the district issued a notice asking for corrections in January.

Details of what has been fixed to date and what still needs work were provided by district staff at the Tuesday board meeting.

In addition to the loan issue, the school, which prepares students for careers in public safety, also failed to include financial information in archives of board meetings and to present an appropriate reserve level to the district.

Also of concern to district officials was a lack of instruction for English learners and special education students.

The loan has been the biggest issue to date.

According to Maria Garcia, a spokeswoman for the district, the loan was given to the school during the 2008-2009 school year when academy officials said they needed money to operate.

It was subsequently supposed to be paid back in full with interest by June 30 2010.

The full amount is due by July, and Garcia said the situation will continue to be monitored.

If there are signs of financial mismanagement the district could revoke the charter, she added.

In addition to the district situation, a San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge recently ruled in favor of Charter School Capital, CSC, a company which provides financing to charter schools, in a lawsuit filed against the academy for breach of contract and conversion. The court ordered the school to pay CSC at least $85,000.

In response to the district report, Mike Davis, deputy superintendent and chief financial officer for the academy, said that $175,000 of the loan has been paid, and the rest is forthcoming.

“We are facing a cash shortfall based on the state keeping our money,” he said. “But at this point we have submitted a new repayment plan and are meeting our obligations.”

The debt to CSC will be settled by Feb. 25, he said.

The Public Safety Academy was started in 2000 by Michael Dickinson, a onetime San Bernardino arson investigator who spent a lot of time working with juvenile firestarters.

The first classes, with eight students enrolled, were held in the Union Hall of the San Bernardino Professional Firefighters.

From there it continued to grow. The school, now housed on the old Norton Air Force Base, has 420 sixth-to 12-graders enrolled.

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