Chicago public schools want to revoke Urban Prep’s charters

Citing Urban Prep’s distinctive program, district CEO Pedro Martinez recommends that the two district-governed campuses remain open.

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

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Board documents, including a summary of the inspector general’s report first released publicly Monday morning, outline a number of issues with Urban Prep’s operations. The report alleged 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 chief include a do-not-hire flag in his personnel file.

Board documents also state that for years the school was financially mismanaged, failed to provide federally mandated services to students with disabilities, and did not employ enough licensed educators.

In a statement, Chicago Public Schools said financial mismanagement and other misconduct at the school violates the law, puts students at risk and wastes taxpayers’ money.

“The timing of this non-renewal is student-centric — making that decision now rather than next year — allows families to make informed decisions about their next move,” the district said.

In its own statement, Urban Prep said it worked in good faith with the district to meet its terms for the charters’ reapproval. The district is using the misconduct allegations against King to “control and undermine Urban Prep’s operations and new leadership team.” It prompted Mayor Lori Lightfoot to intervene.

“If justice 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 withdraws Urban Prep’s charter, the school has an opportunity to appeal to the Illinois State Board of Education.

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

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

The Office of the Inspector General found in a previous investigation that Urban Prep had used a loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program to balance his books during the pandemic, but overstated the number of employees in his application.

Board documents state that the school increasingly relied on district cash advances and high-interest loans to stay afloat. According to the documents, the school repeatedly defaulted on staff salaries, lease payments and vendors who provided services to its students with disabilities.

The most recent County Board of Supervisors investigation, first reported in WBEZ earlier this summer and obtained by Chalkbeat through a Freedom of Information Act request, says King began an inappropriate relationship with a then 16-year-old Urban Prep student. The alleged victim described the relationship with county investigators, who found King financially supported the student through college, took him on “lavish” vacations, and eventually employed 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 continue supporting the school. They have said it has transformed the lives of low-income black boys — a student group that has long faced the widest disparity in student outcomes in Chicago and other boroughs.

Board documents describe Charter leadership’s response to the IG investigation and eventual conclusions last summer as “amazing”. The school failed to notify the district that its board appointed him to a legacy charter board after King’s resignation and that he would lead the Urban Prep Foundation, the documents said.

In a sign of their growing concern for the school, school board members only granted the Englewood campus a one-year extension last school year, with numerous conditions. The district now says the school did not meet those conditions.

Board documents state that the district wishes to continue operating the school as a campus of one of its existing high schools. An attempt is made to keep as many of the current administrators, teachers and staff as possible.

Mila Koumpilova is Chalkbeat Chicago’s senior reporter, covering the Chicago Public Schools. Contact Mila at [email protected]. Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site about educational changes in public schools.

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