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Queens Chronicle

SUNY officials review Merrick Academy

Press reports prompt state agency to take up unspecified inquiries

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Posted: Thursday, April 24, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 10:57 am, Thu May 1, 2014.

A series of reports by a local television station in February has led the SUNY Charter Institute to investigate the finances and governance of the Merrick Academy in Springfield Gardens.

NY1 did a four-part series that raised questions about the school’s finances and its leadership, particularly that of Gerald Karikari, the chairman of the school’s board of trustees.

Founded in 2000, Merrick is a public elementary school with about 500 students, though its charter comes from SUNY.

In an email to the Chronicle last week, a spokeswoman for the institute said an inquiry is ongoing, led by members of the organization’s legal and fiscal oversight teams.

She said it is separate from the regular, planned 5-year review that the school already will be facing in 2015.

“Right now the Institute is still investigating, meaning a visit was conducted in February, which resulted in a letter to the school in March requesting further information and documentation based on the visit,” Catherine Kramer wrote.

Kramer added that the inquiry does extend to questions raised by the NY1 series about a real estate lease that the school has entered into.

Kramer declined to discuss specifics of any investigation or the contents of the March letter to school officials. A copy of the letter was not available.

A message left with Karikari’s office was not returned.

The city’s Department of Education has little or no input over the school’s operations and none whatsoever in connection with the state’s investigation. A DOE spokesman declined to comment for this story.

Yet the school’s 2012-13 progress reports, the most recent ones available on the city DOE website indicate difficulties.

The school had an overall grade of C, scoring 39.2 points out of 100. It tallied C grades for student achievement and student progress, as well as a B for overall school environment. It was given no letter grade for closing the achievement gap, tallying a rating of 1.2 out of a possible 17.

Kramer’s statement said that per SUNY policies, any SUNY-authorized charter school found to not be in compliance with the stipulations of itscharter or other regulations or statutes can be put on probation with a corrective action plan.

Such an action requires a vote of the SUNY Board of Trustees Charter Schools Committee. A school in question also could have a violation issued against its charter.

Kramer’s statement also said that the probation or violations would all be taken into consideration by the institute and the SUNY Charter Schools Committee when a school comes up for renewal.

“In the case of Merrick Academy that is next year,” she wrote. “[R]ight now the Institute is still gathering information and documentation and will proceed as appropriate and in accordance with SUNY policies based on the findings.”

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