Academica, the largest charter for profit management firm, strikes again. This is one of those stories that has sequels. Last year, I posted a story from the Miami Herald about Doral Academy high school. It ‘loaned’ $400,000 of public money to Doral College to launch an online dual enrollment program. Doral College was unaccredited and had no students. Both the charter high school and the college are operated by Academica. The auditor took exception…again.
Understanding what goes on behind the scenes is important. Charters operate with public tax dollars. They are supposed to be run by non-profit boards. Their boards, however, often simply contract with the management firm that appoints them. Their annual audits report the charter expenses, but how the management company uses the money they glean from the charters is invisible. This is a lot of money in south Florida. These management companies not only charge management fees, they also have their own real estate companies, and in many cases, charge over a million dollars for the buildings they own.
Regulating charters is difficult in Florida. Most key education committees are run by legislators with personal ties to charters. Mismanagement is frequent, and now Doral College is subject to another bad audit report.
Academica is run by Representative Fresen’s sister and brother-in-law. Fresen was charged in a federal conflict of interest case because he served on the board of another Academica charter when its board awarded a contract to Fresen’s company. This is almost a side story.
The real story is that Doral High School, which of course operates with public funds, loaned $400,000 to Doral College. The College was in financial trouble, and Academica decided to turn it into an online college awarding dual enrollment credit to Academica run charter schools. It hired Representative Anitere Flores and Representative Manny Diaz to run the college. Since the college was not accredited, the course work was not accepted as college work.
The college had no students or faculty; no wonder it needed money. They used the charter high school teachers for the dual enrollment college courses.
Now it seems that the Miami Dade auditor has found another problem. This time, the auditors take exception to the $600,000 the college has earned giving worthless two year degrees to high school students. The entire situation is entirely too cozy. Andreina Figueroa, chair of the board of Somerset charter–another Academica school and Luis Fuste, vice chair of Doral Academy High School both serve on the Doral College board.
The League has called for stricter management controls of charter schools, including requiring that board members are independent of the education management company. Given that so many legislators have personal interest in charter schools, improved management has been hard to come by.
These are the high achieving charter schools that the legislature wants to foist onto other districts. Representative Diaz is the author of the statewide charter system bill. This is not the way to improve Florida’s educational system.