Quanetta Releford blinked back tears. She was out of a job, but that's wasn't the point. Her school was closed.
The Oklahoma City School Board voted 6-2 during a special meeting Tuesday night to close Marcus Garvey Leadership Charter School.
Releford, an arts teacher, was one of more than 200 people — mostly Marcus Garvey supporters — who packed the Oklahoma City Public Schools administration building auditorium. Many got up and walked away while school board members encouraged them to try to open a different school.
“We vote,” one man yelled as he walked out of the room.
“We pay our taxes,” a woman shouted as she stood up to leave.
District administrators allege poor academics and financial mismanagement. An attorney for the school said that's not the case. Both sides called foul on the other's interpretation of test scores.
Releford said her school was closed by people who never took the time to see what it was beyond test scores.
“They spent three seconds in each class, and you want to tell me about our school?” she said. “You want to base it all on test scores?”
People filled nearly every seat in the auditorium. During regular school board meetings, the room is nearly empty.
Some listened with chins on fists, nodding with eyes closed as they listened to teachers talk about the importance of the school. Others whispered quietly to one another when hearing facts about reading scores or math averages or science trends. Spectators occasionally groaned or cheered.
District officials said if the school is closed, the 180 or so students will be sent to traditional schools in the area.
Christian Williams, 9, said he doesn't want to go to another school. The third-grader said he doesn't know what school he'll go to next year.
“I don't want to lose my school,” he said. “I might not like it.”
Two of his younger siblings already go to Marcus Garvey, and another was supposed to start in prekindergarten next year. They all have had the same teachers and the same friends. His little sister, Paige, showed a letter she wrote to the school board just in case they wanted to hear from her.
“I love my school,” she wrote. “I want to keep my school open.”
The data debate
The audience murmured as testing data was shared by Pamela Watson Hunt, the associate director for elementary education.
Hunt presented state testing numbers comparing Marcus Garvey to the other charter schools with similar demographics. Some numbers were similar, but others were drastically different.
For example, in 2011-12, no seventh-graders at Marcus Garvey passed the state math test, but 98 percent of students at KIPP passed the same exam.
On the reading test that year, about 29 percent of Marcus Garvey fifth-graders passed, compared with 56 percent of students from Western Village and 79 percent of KIPP children.
Kwame Mumina, an attorney speaking on behalf of Marcus Garvey, said the statistics weren't fair.
He contended that the district skewed the numbers to leave out students who nearly passed the state exams.
Second-grade teacher Derek Brown said his students always come to his classroom reading like second-graders ought to. Some come in two years behind, and even if they catch up a year or more, they're still behind.
But that doesn't mean what they accomplish doesn't count.
“According to the state standards, that's unacceptable,” said Brown, who has been teaching at Marcus Garvey since it opened 10 years ago. “But in my eyes, that's growth. That child is learning to read.”
Looking at the books
School officials don't follow state law when it comes to tracking and paying for school expenses, said Jean Bostwick, a controller in the district finance department.
The school district was paying for meals at the school, but the school was also receiving federal funds for those same meals.
Instead of using the federal funds to pay the school district back, the school kept the money. When district officials pointed out the problem, the school eventually paid it all back. But it didn't have all $92,000 on hand.
Board member Phil Horning said that points to misspending.
“It was spent on something else because they didn't have the money to pay us,” Horning said.
Oklahoma City Superintendent Karl Springer said officials didn't move to close the school right away because the end of 2012-13 school year was at hand.
“That kind of financial issue is large enough in my opinion to cause us to cancel our contract,” he said.
Springer also said Marcus Garvey leaders don't “have a clear understanding of how much money they have at any one time.”
Mumina, the Marcus Garvey attorney, said the errors weren't nefarious. “We made a mistake,” he said. “We made a management mistake.”