MISSION PREPARATORY SCHOOL
By Caroline Grannan
A new K-8 charter school, the Mission Preparatory School, is being proposed -- in a rather low-key manner -- for San Francisco's Mission District. There has been little public discussion of the school itself or of who's behind it.
But a little research reveals some interesting links. This charter is being proposed by the Boston organization Building Excellent Schools (BES). One of the six BES board members, Steven F. Wilson, was the founder and CEO of Boston-based Advantage Schools. Advantage was a nationwide for-profit charter operator that collapsed after a Boston Globe investigation revealed its troubles in 2001. Here is the expose:
"... while promising to bring higher standards and sharper management of taxpayer dollars, Advantage has misled parents about teacher qualifications, failed to consistently boost scores on high-stakes state tests, and engaged in financial practices that have prompted censure by at least two states, the Globe has found.
"A sampling: At Chicago's Octavio Paz Charter School, 30 of the 33 teachers Advantage hired had only substitute certificates, according to a city official. At Jersey City's Golden Door Charter School, class sizes were a third larger than advertised, and Advantage ended up with a $600,000 deficit. And at Albany's New Covenant Charter School, more than 90 percent of the students failed New York State's reading test.
"Schools in four cities - Malden, Chicago, Albany, and Rocky Mount, N.C. - have ended their relationships with the four-year-old company. And at least another three of the 19 charter schools Advantage has started have been plagued with problems.
"Advantage has used its conservative political connections to drum up business in Massachusetts and nationwide. Cofounder Steven Wilson, a former aide to Governor William F. Weld, tapped state Board of Education member Abigail Thernstrom to serve on Advantage's academic advisory board."
To old-timers in the San Francisco Unified School District, Advantage was also of interest because it was the last known employer of flamboyant and controversial former SFUSD Superintendent Bill Rojas. Rojas left SFUSD under a cloud in 1999 to become superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District, which fired him in 2001.
COMPILATION OF CHARTER SCHOOL SCANDALS
April 2009 to April 2010
►April 2009: In Springfield, Massachusetts, the New Leadership Charter School made national news when one of its 11 year-old students killed himself after severe bullying. In the school's charter renewal, the state cited it for "inconsistent implementation of the character education and leadership elements of its mission".
►June 2009: In Minneapolis, Minnesota, the former executive director of the Oh Day Aki/Heart of the Earth charter school appeared in court on charges [eight felony counts of theft by swindle] of embezzling $1.38 million from the school for American Indian children and spending it on houses, cars and nights at strip clubs.
►July 2009: In Texas and Nevada, there is rising concern about the practices of Imagine Schools Inc., one of the largest for-profit charter school management companies, running several dozen schools in 12 states. The company forces its charter schools to spend a huge amount of money on their leases.
“Typically, after an Imagine-managed charter school gets approval to open, Schoolhouse Finance, Imagine's real estate arm, purchases a campus and charges the school rent. After the school begins to pay that rent, Schoolhouse sells the campus to a real estate investment trust, which then leases it back to Schoolhouse.”
The charter school eventually sends rent payments – in one case upward of 40 percent of the school's entire publicly funded budget – to two for-profit companies. As the article stated, "The arrangement is very lucrative because it's a direct conduit to public funds. The school [property] is paid off with public funds,"…
►August 2009: In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, “What began as a complaint from a couple of moms more than 18 months ago has mushroomed into a widening federal investigation of at least five Philadelphia-area charter schools, calling into question spending controls and management oversight in this burgeoning alternative to traditional public schools.”
"A supervisory prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office confirmed that federal authorities had taken a broad interest in charter-school operations. The schools being investigated are New Media Technology Charter School (two campuses) targeted for spending irregularities and conflicts of interest, the Philadelphia Academy Charter School, Germantown Settlement Charter School in Germantown, Northwood Academy, and the Agora Cyber Charter School.
"But others familiar with the probes said investigators were reviewing the spending of local, state, and federal money. Though there is no common pattern for the alleged financial irregularities, the expanding investigation has already forced the Philadelphia School Reform Commission and the state Department of Education to tighten scrutiny of charter schools.
"Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said the federal authorities' recent interest in charters was triggered in part by Inquirer revelations about questionable spending at several schools.
"The sources said federal officials were concerned that such large amounts of money are controlled by only a few people, a concern heightened by new federal stimulus funding.
"Traditionally, such investigations had been conducted chiefly by the Department of Education. But because federal investigators have found what one official called "financial aberrations" at several schools, the FBI and the IRS have been asked to add resources."
The founder of the Philadelphia Academy Charter School committed suicide in May 2009. He was facing accusations of mismanagement, nepotism, and conflicts of interest.
More background here.
►October 2009: In San Diego County, California, a Helix High School charter school employee was under investigation in connection with the disappearance of a female student who recently ran away from home. The school “has been marred by controversy in the past involving student-staff relationships. Four former Helix teachers were convicted of sex crimes involving students between December 2006 and September 2008.”
►September 2009: In Pueblo, Colorado, the CEO of Cesar Chavez School Network was demoted and the CFO was forced to resign after financial problems emerged, and the disclosure that the CEO of the 900-student program was paying himself $261,732 a year, making him the highest paid public-school superintendent in the state. His wife was earning $134,826, and the CFO was earning $247,797. The CMO has four schools and one online school. More info here.
►November 2009: In Brighton, Colorado, Brighton Collegiate High School (formerly Brighton Charter School) is having its fourth scandal. Police are investigating inappropriate behavior with a student.
One of its previous scandals, a teacher having an affair with a student, made national news.
►November 2009: Minnesota’s charter school movement
"Minnesota's charter school movement, which sparked a national rethinking of public schooling nearly two decades ago, has been infected by an out-of-control financing system fueled by junk bonds, insider fees and lax oversight.
"State law prohibits charter schools from owning property, but consultants have found a legal loophole, allowing proponents to use millions of dollars in public money to build schools even though the properties remain in the hands of private nonprofit corporations."
"The charter school movement in Minnesota is at least temporarily on the ropes, reeling from a series of recent revelations in the Star Tribune that focused on how some of the state’s approximately 150 charter schools have misused funds or failed to provide adequate oversight and accountability when it comes to leasing the buildings they occupy.
"Over the course of its investigation, the paper revealed that the state’s lease-aid payments to charters-funds targeted to help charter schools buy or build facilities-has skyrocketed from $1.1 million to $42.4 million in the past decade. Some of these payments have been tainted by blatant conflicts of interest among charter school administrators and builders, and by other attempts to derive private profit from loopholes in a state law originally intended to give these experimental schools more freedom to pursue innovations in education."
Read more here.
►December 2009: In Springfield, Massachusetts, the FBI is investigating the Robert M. Hughes Academy charter school and reviewing documents related to the former principal. She was fired after being linked to a standardized test cheating scandal that led the state to revoke the school's charter.
"Now, the Robert W. Hughes Charter School--under a cloud since the state auditor found gross financial management issues--is facing an investigation into cheating on the MCAS test. The school's board replaced its sidelined principal with Fred Swan, a convicted felon whose brother is a state representative from Springfield. The school's board and the state aren't telling concerned parents much, raising the question of to whom it is that charter schools are accountable."
And read here to learn about the findings of an investigation by state education officials. They offer a glimpse into the specific cheating allegations that have been leveled against the school.
►January 2010: In Brooklyn, New York, East New York Preparatory, a “charter school that has the dubious distinction of committing the worst charter violations city officials say they’ve ever seen is about to be closed.”
More from Gotham Schools:
►February 2010: In El Paso, Texas, the El Paso School of Excellence has been plagued with corruption for years, and yet has remained open.
"Accused by both the city and state of egregious mismanagement, the school’s principal Sheila Joseph is alleged to have pushed students with low test scores out of the school, given herself a significant raise, and created an environment so unstable that Teach for America is threatening to pull all six of its members out of the building."
►February 2010: In Albany, New York, Albany Preparatory Charter School has been accused of screening potential pupils to weed out those with academic challenges according to an investigation and scathing report released by the State University of New York's Charter Schools Institute.
More on the story here.
►February 2010: In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a former administrator at Community Academy Charter School has filed a whistle-blower suit alleging that she was improperly fired the day after federal agents raided the school in August. She claims that charter school officials retaliated against her because she had filed a complaint with federal investigators detailing "a pattern of criminal misuse of local, state, and federal funds." The charter founder and CEO had five relatives on the charter's payroll and his wife was a consultant to the school.►February 2010: In Memphis, Tennessee, the Memphis Academy for Health Sciences holds assemblies every Friday where students who have misbehaved are paddled before the entire student body.
►March 2010: In New York City, a federal grand jury is trying to unravel a complicated story about the finances of two local politicians and their ties to two charter schools, Merrick Academy Charter School and Peninsula Preparatory Academy Charter School. The story involves campaign donation from developers, officials funneling public money to the developing firm, the charter schools giving campaign donations to the politicians, the relocation of a charter school to property owned by the developer, and more. Peninsula Preparatory Academy Charter School is run by a for-profit company called Victory Schools. The students sit on property in trailers in a lot behind a chain-link fence, surrounded by piles of dirt, with no labs, gym, playground or cafeteria kitchen. The property is being developed by one of the politicians top campaign donors. The developer uses the school as a selling point to hawk his houses.►March 2010: In Oakland, California, the Oakland Charter Academy’s executive director was denied confirmation to sit on the California State Board of Education because of financial questions relating to an interlocking series of real estate business arrangements involving him and a close associate, Ben Chavis of Oakland, the former director of the American Indian Public Charter School. These two operate five Oakland charter schools.
►March 2010: In Las Vegas, Nevada, state investigators are looking into allegations that the principal of the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy charter school gave students additional opportunities to complete a state standardized test.
►March 2010: In Jersey City, New Jersey, a security guard at CREATE Charter School was discovered to be under indictment for multiple sex offenses.
“Citing a failure to meet goals, staffing issues and poor performance on standardized tests, the state Department of Education is closing CREATE Charter School in Jersey City as of June 30.”►March 2010: In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School was found to be operating as a nightclub on weekend nights.
►March 2010: In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, an accountant was paid $700,561 over four years by three city charter schools and claimed to have worked more than 365 days in each year. One person was the business manager of the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School, the business manager at the Khepera Charter School, and the chief financial officer of the Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School.
►March 2010: In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 13 charter schools were being investigated by City Controller Alan Butkovitz. So far he has found repeated examples of complex real estate arrangements in which charters leased or rented facilities from related non-profit organizations.
►April 2010: In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a federal probe has discovered that the CEO of the Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School rents the school's property from Parents United, an organization which she also heads, making her both landlord and tenant. Apparently, the charter school’s board also approved $536,093 for travel and conferences, but the school didn’t document them.
►April 2010: In Gloucester, Massachusetts, “A week after the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School hired two administrators to run the publicly-funded independent school, the organization has not said how much each will earn or provided job descriptions for them…”
This school was opposed by almost all elected city officials and many public school parents before it was approved in February 2009. The State Education Secretary lobbied state Education Commissioner to approve the charter to appease charter school supporters. The Commissioner endorsed the charter “against the recommendation of his own office staff and was later accused by the state's inspector general of lying to lawmakers and presiding over document shredding that covered up the machinations of the approval process.”
►April 2010: In Calhoun Falls, South Carolina, a teacher-coach at Calhoun Falls Charter School was arrested and faces six counts of sex with a student-related charges stemming from an alleged relationship with a 15-year-old female student.
"Already among the ranks of schools statewide facing financial troubles, Taylor’s arrest was anything but good news to the charter school — still arguably in its infancy following the Abbeville County School District Board of Trustees 2007 decision to close the former Calhoun Falls High School."
- Tampering with grades, attendance and testing
- Misuse of local, state, and federal funds: grand theft and misappropriation of public school funds, embezzlement and engaging in fraud and misrepresentation, bankruptcy fraud, and federal and local tax evasion.
- Nepotism and conflicts of interest
- Scandals involving elected officials, developers, and charter schools
- Complicated, shady, borderline-legal and illegal real estate deals
Is there anything I've missed?