It appears all but two of the 20 charter schools waiting this week for state approval of their oversight plans will remain open this fall, despite last-minute scrambling to keep their doors open.
Thursday was the schools' deadline for approval of authorizers, which oversee operations, under new state guidelines. If denied, the charters would have had to ask their current sponsors for a one-year extension or close.
Lake Superior High School and Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy will have to close.
Their transfer requests were among the 11 denied by the Minnesota Department of Education. The rest got extensions from their authorizers.
A law passed in 2009 narrowed the scope of who can authorize a charter and required those organizations to keep much closer tabs on the schools they oversee.
Dozens of charter schools spent the last year searching for new authorizers that were willing to meet the more demanding standards. There were 64 schools that needed new authorizers in early February, when the department started reviewing applications.
Of those, 14 had their authorizers approved, and 31 transferred to new authorizers. Another eight didn't submit applications but had their contracts extended by existing authorizers.
Almost all of the transfers that were denied - 10 of the 11 - sought authorization from Novation Education Opportunities. The nonprofit has been approved to oversee eight other schools.
Department of Education spokeswoman said the number of schools Novation wanted to authorize went beyond a plan the organization submitted last year.
"We scrutinize each approved authorizer against the expectations they set for themselves," said department spokeswoman Charlene Briner.
This past spring, Novation turned down a Department of Education demand to sever its contract with BlueSky Online, a West St. Paul-based charter the state accused of graduating students illegally. Then, in defiance of a state plan to close that school, Novation signed a new one-year contract with it last week.
Novation executive director Bryan Rossi could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The other schools Novation wanted to oversee were able to extend their contracts. But some say it wasn't easy.
Tom Kearney, principal of New Heights School in Stillwater, said he didn't have any idea that the school's transfer application might be in jeopardy. He said it submitted its application April 14 and never heard anything from the Education Department.
"I'm stunned it came down to this," Kearney said. "It's been a nightmare."
Kearney approached the Stillwater school district, the school's current authorizer, last week to see if it could extend its contract. School board members approved the extension Thursday.
Stillwater decided last fall to pull its sponsorship. District administrators said more demanding state regulations would require additional time and resources to oversee the 140-student charter school.
But the district understands New Heights is in a bind and doesn't want to see the school close, said Chris Lennox, the district's assistant superintendent of teaching and learning.
"I think they serve a population of students in our district very well," Lennox said. "We have a good relationship with New Heights, and we wanted to help them bridge that gap until they find a new authorizer."
The process has frustrated charter school leaders for months, said Eugene Piccolo, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools.
Piccolo said the department had too heavy of a hand in approving authorizer transfers and believes there was too much political gamesmanship going on.
"This has been a fiasco. Just incompetent," Piccolo said. "It's a tragedy that any school had to close because of this."
David Hartman, supervisor of the Education Department's charter school center, said the department processed more than 40 change-of-authorizer applications since February. That often involved extensive back-and-forth with would-be authorizers, making it a time-consuming process.
"We are confident in the fact that the process has been thorough, and we achieved a high standard," Hartman said.