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Hundreds await word on charter school's fate

by Krystal Paco

Guam - For years they struggled to identify a school site, but now that the Guahan Academy Charter School has comfortably settled into the CoreTech facility in Tiyan, they may be doomed for closure.

It's been a rough ride for the island's first charter school. Although they were given the green light to open doors years ago, they continued to push back their opening date as they struggled secure funding and a school site.

Now four months into their first school year, they may have to hit the brakes as their landlords, CoreTech international, have served them an eviction notice for operating on the property without a lease agreement.

If GovGuam doesn't act fast, the 515 students who attend Guahan Academy Charter School will have no place to go come Monday. "We sincerely believe that this is not the end of the road but a bump in the road," said Donna Dwiggins. At last night's emergency meeting called for parents, Dwiggins, the school principal, broke the bad news.

"We have received a notice to vacate the school buildings in which GACS operates no later than Friday, December 13, 2013. This notice was served to the charter school because the Government of Guam has not finalized the lease with CoreTech for the property that the school occupies."

Dwiggins says CoreTech has signed their end of the contract, but the holdup has been with GovGuam where the contract now sits with the AG's Office for review.

If no contract is finalized by Friday the 13th, GACS officials will be forced to turn over the keys on Monday - an option that left many parents upset.  

"It seems to me that there's been a very big failure on the part of the Government of Guam to support the school to this point and there's no way that any of us can allow it to interrupt all of our children's education at this point at the beginning of the tenure of this school it's just completely irresponsible by the government," one parent said.

While they point the blame at GovGuam for lagging on the lease agreement, Troy Torres says the Calvo Administration has been nothing but supportive. When charter school officials looked to GovGuam for help, GovGuam helped with securing the present site of the charter school, just outside the interim Untalan Middle School campus.

He said, "To not take any responsibility for the management of your operations is really irresponsible and a disservice to those parents and students, something that we're not going to brush this aside and say, 'This is your fault you need to deal with it.' We're continuing to help every single day."

While Dwiggins argues GovGuam's deadline to finalize the lease was on November 30, Torres argues its December 31, when GovGuam's option to purchase Tiyan runs out. "Now with the eviction notice from the developer and understanding that the charter school did not meet its obligation to their November 30 developer to the developer it looks like we'll need to talk to the attorney general about speeding up the review," he said.

Meanwhile, Senator Aline Yamashita says had GACS been more transparent about operations, the threat of eviction could have been avoided. "Certainly we know that we've had some rough turns here we were with charter school at an oversight weeks ago and on the list of questions was the status of the lease. At that time, their CEO, their principal and the board of trustees chose not to speak to us," she stated.

Although the Administration remains hopeful they'll have a contract signed by Friday, Dwiggins says the worst case scenario is closure on Monday when parents will be asked to visit their Mangilao offices to request their child's school transcripts for transfer.

Meanwhile, AG's Office spokesperson Carlina Charfauros confirms they received the lease agreement late august where it's been sent back and forth between BBMR,GEDA, and her agency. Most recently, it was returned to the AG's Office on December 6. She confirms no contract was signed as of today.

Charter school parents are expected to rally in front of the ITC intersection at 9 tomorrow morning to garner support for the school. They're also circulating a petition to keep the school from closing.

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