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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Public Schools board not yet ready to reauthorize Pride Prep

Elias Baldwin Bonney, right, a senior at Pride Prep in Spokane, listens as school founder and Superintendent Brenda McDonald talks about the school Tuesday, April 27, 2021 in the hall at the school. Baldwin-Bonney is planning to pursue a theater major at NYU when he graduates.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

The Spokane Public Schools board wants more assurances that Pride Prep is on the right track before it issues a reauthorization of the school’s charter.

During its meeting Wednesday night, the board directed district staff to work with Pride Prep administrators to clarify the language of the school’s proposal to address academic and fiscal problems.

“I want to see that you have a good plan in place,” board member Aryn Ziehnert told Pride Prep administrators.

Board approval of the Pride Prep charter – with conditions – could come as soon as next week, but no timetable has been set.

As authorizer of the charter, the district also has powers of revocation, though that word wasn’t uttered Wednesday night.

Board members appeared generally satisfied with the school’s 47-page response to academic-related questions from the district.

Low scores in standardized tests in 2018 and 2019, followed by a lack of data since the pandemic, are turning around, school officials said.

Nicky Jones, the school’s International Baccalaureate coordinator, pointed out that that the school serves a high percentage of students from “underserved populations.”

However, some board members were troubled by an audit conducted in 2018-19. It revealed flaws in its payroll management system, time-off policies, approval of purchases and other issues.

The school also restricted auditors’ access to staff and altered documents for the purposes of reconciling employee time-off – lapses noted by SPS board members.

“This challenges me a lot right now,” board President Jerrall Haynes said, echoing concerns from other board members.

Since then, the Pride Prep school board “has recruited and retained operations staff with greater expertise and experience to provide business management and human resource support,” the school said in its letter.

“In the fall of 2020, business management and human resource teams reviewed internal controls and procedures,” it continued.

The Pride Prep response also included testimonials from students and staff. More spoke on Wednesday.

Lisa Lee, the mother of several students, said Pride Prep has offered a choice for parents who are “looking for something outside the box.”