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Financial Concerns Prompt REALM and Online School Merge

The Revolutionary Education and Learning Movement (REALM) charter school is likely to merge with an online school in the coming year due to financial concerns.

Worry over the school’s financial situation has prompted the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) School Board to seriously consider revoking REALM’s charter school certification. While REALM has come close to getting its certification revoked over the past few years, the situation is now more dire than in previous instances.

The district’s main concern is the large amount of debt REALM has incurred. The school has acquired over one million dollars of debt in the past few years. To remedy this, the school is looking to merge with Compass Charter Schools, an online, non-profit charter school chain. The schools serve students in Fresno, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Yolo counties. Compass Charter is a non-classroom based charter, so instruction takes place online through computer based programs such as Adobe Connect. When asked to comment on the merger, School Board Director Ty Alper said he would rather not discuss the issue as it will be covered in future board meetings. 

School officials at REALM are hopeful about the potential merger. REALM’s Executive Director Victor Diaz said, “The merger will immediately address the district’s concerns about finances. Compass is a strong financial partner, and every concern the district has, such as, ‘Will REALM pay its bills?’ [or] ‘Where will the money come from?’… will be answered immediately.” Compass has already loaned REALM $600,000 and will be loaning them another $250,000, totaling to $850,000 since December 2018. If the merger is finalized, Compass will absorb REALM’s remaining debts.

Besides improving the financial situation at REALM, Diaz and Superintendent and CEO of Compass Charter Schools, J.J. Lewis, hope the merger will accomplish two additional goals: raise enrollment and put better operational systems in place. Through improved marketing and promotion, Compass hopes to attract more students to REALM. Lewis said, “There are good things happening at REALM that the community doesn’t know about … they haven’t been able to get that word out.” To improve the management, Lewis discussed Compass’s operational advantages. He said, “We bring in a lot of structures, processes, and procedures, which we think will greatly help REALM.”

“I don’t know what will happen next for students and teachers. If families want to stay and fight, we will stay and fight.”

The merger would also enable students with long commutes to take classes online, allowing REALM to serve more kids. Diaz says that REALM’s African American and Latinx students outperform students of the same ethnicity at Berkeley High School. He is frustrated with the board’s lack of support for the work REALM is doing, and thinks the board could do better by “supporting a merger and letting us continue to do that work.”

As for the effect on teachers, Diaz said, “It will impact [teachers] positively, it answers those questions about financial stability.” REALM’s current teachers would continue to teach where they are now, but would be Compass employees.

Lewis said, “There isn’t much awareness of what we hope to accomplish together … There are still some questions that the community has … I think there are some misconceptions about this merger.” The schools hope to have the merger finalized by July 1, 2019.

If the Board decides to revoke REALM’s charter certification, Diaz said he would appeal and fight the decision. “I don’t know what will happen next for students and teachers. If families want to stay and fight, we will stay and fight,” he said.