UPDATE: Silicon Valley Flex Academy closes due to financial hardship

UPDATE: Silicon Valley Flex Academy closes due to financial hardship

Parents left scrambling to find new schools

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UPDATE: Silicon Valley Flex Academy closes due to financial hardship

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Hundreds of families were caught by surprise July 26 when they received email notification that Morgan Hill-based Silicon Valley Flex Academy was closing its doors less than three weeks before the start of the new school year.

Those parents—a majority whose children have special needs—are now scrambling to find new schools for their children.

“It was like being sucker-punched,” said single father Chris McKie, whose 13-year-old son who suffers from dyslexia was expecting to start the eighth grade at Flex as a first-year student. “It just knocked the wind out of our sails.”

But the school has a history of financial unsteadiness going back several months. County education officials have questioned Flex’s operational viability after discovering the academy had been submitting late and inconsistent financial statements and was regularly delinquent in its payment of county oversight fees and CALSTRS retirement payments.

McKie, however, met with the Flex principal and special education staff earlier in the summer before deciding on enrolling his son there and “it seemed to be a perfect match,” he said.

Flex, a free public charter school authorized through the Santa Clara County Office of Education beginning in 2011, was granted a five-year renewal from the county board back in November 2015. The 6th through 12th grade secondary school, located at 610 Jarvis Drive, boasted a blended learning model by combining an online K12, Inc. curriculum with offline lessons and small-sized breakout sessions.

However, in the July 27 email authored by Flex Board President Mark Kushner, parents were notified that the school was closing. Kushner blamed the school’s service provider K12 for terminating its service contract with Flex on July 1.

“While the Board disagrees with K12’s grounds to terminate the service contract, it cannot operate the school without K12’s financial support, and does not have alternative funding for the school,” Kushner wrote. “Silicon Valley Flex has served its students and families well for the past five years, and our sincere hope was to find a way to ensure it could continue to do so. Sadly, in the past week it became clear that we are simply out of options and can wait no longer.”

For the past five years, K12 provided all of its products and services, including on-site staff to Flex, at no fee for each upcoming year, according to Mike Kraft, Vice President of Communications for K12.

“However, even with this, the school’s budget could not support the school’s operations. In the past, although not contractually obligated to do so, K12 had advanced the school additional funding to cover this structural deficit,” Kraft explained. “The company was not, however, able to do so going forward and made the board aware of this in the Fall of 2015.”

Flex is the only K12 school in California that is closing, Kraft said.

Parents surprised

Kushner’s message came as a complete shock to parent Mary Joy, whose 12-year-old son with Asperger’s syndrome was planning to enter his second year at Flex as a seventh grader.

“I’m definitely frustrated because apparently they’ve known since the first of July. I understand they were trying to pull out all the stops in trying to figure out a way to stay open,” Joy said. “But it definitely would have been useful to get this information to families at that time.”

Joy explained that Flex was “a really good fit” for her son with flexible scheduling and small class sizes. Now, with the 2016-17 school year only weeks away, there are “very limited options” in Morgan Hill for her son and it would be difficult to home-school since she and her husband both work.

McKie said he’s already been in contact with staff at Morgan Hill Unified School District and is considering Britton Middle School for his son, but is still looking for other options.

“Two and half weeks before the start of school is a huge surprise. I can’t even guess what all the other families who are affected are going through,” McKie said. “It must be a mad scramble.”

In March, the Times published a story about the county’s concerns over Flex’s operations and the possibility of revoking its charter if they were not fixed. County staff claimed “significant” discrepancies with Flex’s finances and enrollment numbers. However, then head of school Caroline Wood brushed off any concerns as minor, claimed to have “a great working relationship” with county staff and even slammed the Times report in a rebuttal letter to the editor.

“Ultimately, I don’t think this is going to slow the school down,” said Wood in March. She claimed then that Flex had 314 students enrolled for the 2016-17 school year with even more expected to commit prior to the start of school.

County board member Claudia Rossi, of Morgan Hill, originally voted in favor of the five-year renewal back in November that passed by a 5-2 margin, but became increasingly wary of Flex since then.

“It’s not unexpected. We are not surprised,” said Rossi when contacted Wednesday morning. “At the time, our board did everything it could to be as supportive as possible. They fell under their own weight.”

Rossi said county staff was constantly dealing with issue after issue regarding Flex but it is their role as authorizers to be supportive and work with them to remedy any shortcomings. In the November renewal hearing, Rossi said Flex officials told the county board that enrollment was up, staffing was fine, funding was not a problem and they were being creative to make the school viable.

“The parent community was asking us to give them a chance to succeed,” said Rossi, who added that MHUSD was made aware of Flex’s situation and has been in contact with local families.

Kushner explained in his email on behalf of the entire Flex board that “this late notice is very unfortunate,” but they did not want to put families in an even worse situation by closing mid-year.

“Our first and highest priority is always the wellbeing of the students,” said County Superintendent Jon Gundry, who has been in contact with MHUSD Superintendent Steve Betando “to ensure students and families will have options and opportunities following this decision by the Silicon Valley Flex Academy board.”

K12, the school’s service provider that pulled the funding, has been under fire by state officials, recently agreeing to a multi-million dollar settlement in a case brought by the California Attorney General’s Office. A story on the settlement and the AG’s accusations can be viewed at morganhilltimes.com.

Scott Forstner is a general assignment reporter who covers education and other community issues for the Morgan Hill Times. Reach him at (408) 963-0122 or via email at sforstner@morganhilltimes.com

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