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DURHAM - The state Office of Charter Schools has launched an inquiry into the relationship between PACE Academy in Carrboro and Bull City Prep Academy, a club basketball team that has several players attending the charter school.
State officials sent PACE a letter last week asking for detailed answers to questions about its involvement with Bull City Prep and the basketball players who attend the school.
The letter asks PACE to describe in-depth how the school is involved with the for-profit basketball program run by Darryl Harris, a Durham native who previously coached at Durham's Greater Emanuel Prep Academy, which is not a school, and Body of Christ Christian Academy, a school that operates in Raleigh.
PACE officials told The Herald-Sun in a recent interview that the school has no relationship with Bull City Prep and that some of its players just happen to attend school there.
But the Bull City Prep website lists PACE as a sponsor and the school is listed under staff for Bull City Prep's high school team.
"Discuss what it means to be a 'sponsor' or 'staff high school' as listed on the [Bull City Prep] website," Joel Medley, director of the state Office of Charter Schools, wrote in a letter to PACE Academy.
The question was one of 12 Medley asked the school to answer by 5 p.m. Feb. 7.
The state inquiry comes as PACE fights to keep its charter, which expires this year.
The state's Charter School Advisory Committee has recommended that the school's charter not be renewed because of a pattern of non-compliance, fiscal concerns and low academic performance.
The state Board of Education is expected to rule on the recommendation next month.
Meanwhile, Harris has denied that players from overseas and out-of-state were brought to North Carolina and enrolled in PACE solely to play basketball.
"This ain't about basketball, sir," Harris said in a recent interview with The Herald-Sun. "I cannot, will not, ever agree to that."
Medley also asked the school to share any "financial arrangements" that might exist between PACE and Bull City Prep, to list which students on Bull City Prep's Roster are served by PACE and clarify whether PACE is involved in housing and feeding international students or interstate students who are members of the basketball team.
Additionally, Medley asked PACE to designate whether any of the students on the basketball team are claimed for ADM (average daily membership), a formula used in the state funding allocation for public schools and to explain the enrollment and admission process used to enroll the basketball players.
Medley said his office became interested in the relationship after an inquiry into PACE's involvement with Bull City Prep.
He said that an examination of player bios on Bull City Prep showed four players who mentioned that they are enrolled at PACE Academy.
"In looking further, the Department of Public Instruction noticed that several students are listed on membership and enrolled in courses at PACE Academy," Medley wrote. "With these discoveries, we are requesting answers to some specific matters concerning the school's involvement with Bull City Prep."
Bull City Prep bills itself as a program that is "designed to aid student/athletes in the areas of academics and athletics."
Many of the players hope to land a college scholarship outside the traditional high school to college pipeline.
Harris helps to put them on the radar screens of college coaches and is paid $300 to $350 by local players and gets $500 to $700 from non-local players, some of who he houses.
A review of team rosters shows 21 players - nine on a post-graduate team and 12 on the regular prep team.
Players on each team list hometowns from as far away as Nigeria and as close by as Durham.
The team with PACE Academy student includes two from Jamaica, N.Y., one from Queens, N.Y., and one from Lancaster, Pa., as well as one from Nigeria.
For some of the players, Harris said parents have given him temporary guardianship of their child, a necessary step so players can attend PACE Academy.
North Carolina charter school rules require students to be residents of North Carolina, and Harris' out-of-state players became residents when he became their legal guardian.
State charter school officials had said there doesn't appear to be anything illegal about the arrangement, but that the arrangement raised questions about the appropriateness of North Carolinians paying to educate kids from out-of-state brought here for the sole purpose of playing basketball.
PACE receives funding from the state, and because students from Durham, Orange and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City schools attend the school, it also receives local dollars from those school districts.