Charter Schools: Climate of Corruption?

dirt-59785_640In 2012, Florida received an ‘F’ on Ethics Enforcement agencies from the Center for Public Integrity.  On the overall corruption index, Florida received a C-.

Governor Scott issued an executive order to strengthen the process.  The Florida Senate changed the conflict of interest rules for legislators in 2013-14. Bad things keep happening.  Is there a legislative cabal, or are some simply insensitive to the public interest?  There are stories to tell. One of the worst stories involves a $400,000 ‘loan’ from  Doral Academy to Doral College, a non accredited college started on the grounds of Doral Academy charter high school.  The idea is to enroll high school students in dual enrollment courses at the college, taught by the charter high school teachers.  Evidently, only students from these Academica run charters can enroll.  Academica is under federal investigation.  The students earn credit that cannot be transferred to any accredited school.  The college earns money.  Who is involved?

  • Manny Diaz, Chair Florida House Sub Committee on Choice and Innovation.  Representative Diaz is the dean of Doral College in Miami.  Bob Sykes alleges there are other conflicts of interest.
  • Senator Anitere Flores, Chair Senate Fiscal Policy Committee, member Senate Appropriations Committee, CEO of Academica affiliated Doral College
  • Representative Erik Fresen.  Chair of the House Education sub committee on Appropriations. Employee of Civica, a real estate company associated with Academica.

Rep. Fresen was named in the federal investigation due to a potential conflict of interest. He served on the board of an Academica charter school and approved a contract to his real estate firm.  He currently has added an amendment to the House version of the charter school bill that would allocate part of local taxes for public school capital outlay funds to charter school facilities. No charges have been filed on that measure.

Representative Marlene O’Toole, who represents The Villages has also been cited for conflict of interest.  The Villages runs its own charter schools for its employees’ children.  Rep. O’Toole is employed by Take Stock in Children, a non-profit foundation, for which she voted to approve $9 million dollars in funding.  She is Chair of the House Education Committee  and Vice Chair of the House Education Appropriations Committee.  There is no indication that the Villages charter schools were involved in the transaction.

How should Florida conflict of interest laws for legislators be improved?  According to the Center for Public Integrity, in law, independent agency or agencies tasked with enforcing state ethics rules should:

  • have an independent allocation of budget;
  • independently initiate investigations, and
  • impose penalties

Florida received a zero rating on those criteria.  Florida has an ethics commission, but it only reports its findings.  Penalties are determined by the legislature.  While subsequent regulations were drafted, they were implemented by rule, not in law.

Watchdog.wire reported that CSB 2, passed in 2013 and updated in 2014, made some improvements, but more were needed.  For example:

  • Conflicts of interest are now to be disclosed prior to a vote, not afterward.  Penalties may be as small as a $1500 fine.
  • Voting on a legislation is prohibited if the legislator has a private gain or loss, but not if a relative has a gain or loss.   Special private gain or loss is defined to eliminate conflicts of interest when there are only a few people who will benefit from the measure, and if they all benefit the same e.g. each $1 million.  Thus, charter schools are a class of activity and do not benefit individuals.
  • If there is a conflict, the rule requires proof the person knew about the conflict.

Let’s give credit where credit is due.  Proposed bill SB1448 by Senator Legg requires that charter school advisory boards be independent from their management companies. If passed, there could be some improvement, particularly if appointments to the boards were reviewed by school district staff who oversee the charter contracts. Perhaps boards could curb the excessive payments for facilities and other irregularities.  Board members would also be required to observe conflict of interest laws.  There is always hope that avoiding conflict of interest is, in the long run, in everyone’s interest.

Posted in Charter School Management, Florida, Florida House, Funding, Lawsuits, Reform.

9 Comments

  1. Pingback: The Florida Legislature’s War on Public Education | The Withering Apple

  2. Pingback: “Best and Brightest” Bonus Actually a Bunch of Bullshit | The Withering Apple

  3. In my opinion, words can not express how bad this charter school is. I think its ratings are bought and paid for. DO NOT SEND YOUR CHILD HERE. It seems the kids that get awards and scholarships are the bigwigs of the villages corp. and the teachers, or if your a doctor that provides free service to the company. Nice new buildings and terrible Administration and the Elementary school is the worst. The math teacher is clueless and ineffective in the Elementary school and yet gets promoted, The most unprofessional leadership that I have ever seen. Teacher are ineffective and behind the times in teaching methods. This school has no problems with discriminating and does it openly with no remorse or care for the law. Southern charm with a knife in your back. This school should be investigated by the U.S department of Education, and the State of Florida. Sumter county school district has to know what’s going on. If they don’t, they must be in on it or are on the payroll. Never have I’ve experienced such blatant disregard of the laws both Federal and State. The laughed about not flowing the laws. This form of in the work place type charter school in designed for corruption. It’s self serving.
    The most inept,unprofessional, uninformed, school. Remember it’s easy to be rated a 10 when you only take the best preforming kids and get rid of the under achieving kids like yesterday’s trash. This place needs a complete overhaul and the administration should be fired and investigated by the State and Feds for violating the law.

  4. In my opinion and experience avoid this charter school at all cost. This school is a perfect example of how the Florida education system can fail your child. Get ready to teach your child at home, the teachers are all to happy for you to do the teaching for them. This school is ineffectual and only about skimming the cream off the top. It is the quintessential small town politics taken to the next level. The only students for the most part that get Adelaide’s are the teachers kids and the corporate villages employees. The lack of resources to help children that are boarder line or below average is beyond despicable. It’s all about the bling. All smiles and pretty building with an underlying nasty malicious agenda to only service the villages elite.
    The only thing that they care about is image. If your child has any learning issues you will be booted to the curb with a smile. Avoid this school at all cost………my child is devastated after attending this school for years. Unprofessional, ineffective and non compliant, They should be ashamed of them selves.

  5. I have shared this article on my Twitter page and sent it to each Senator on the Education Committee. I also tagged Governor Rick Scott, Florida Department of Education and the entire Florida Senate. This bill is a disgrace!!!

  6. Several weeks ago, the Village of Royal Palm Beach’s Educational Advisory Board unanimously rejected a proposed charter high school to be run by Charter USA. A West Palm Beach Commercial real estate company proposed buying 10 acres of village owned land, right across the street from Royal Palm Beach high School with a “B” rating. The charter group promoted it as giving parent’s a choice, board members noted there are already 3 high schools within a few miles of Royal Palm High “How can our students be better served as a result of this”? Lynn Balch, board chairman asked. Another board member questioned the charter management division of CUSA by asking -which aspects of your charter school operations are subject to public entity law and which relate to laws governing private companies. How can you be both public and private when operating on public funds?

    One more reason for the League to work in unison among all counties to get a two year moratorium on charter legislation. Florida legislators continue to steamroll their way to offering every parent a choice of how they want their child educated using public school dollars.
    Carol Clark Hentschel
    Chairman Education Committee LWV PBC

  7. Legislators who write and vote on bills that serve their own financial interest should at the very least recuse themselves from charter committees. Two involved in conflict of interest serve as chairman of important education committees-Senator John Legg (operates a Pasco County charter school) and Erik Fresen-House Education appropriation. The WPB Education committee is currently investigating Common laws- hundred of years old, designed to protect agent client relationships. For example, doctor -patient relations, lawyer- client relations, real estate and insurance laws have been adopted based on common laws to protect the agent client relationship. Elected officials are agents elected to protect not only their constituents but to help improve the lives of all Floridians. I’ll keep you posted on our findings.

    Legg’s bill SB1448 last paragraph would create the Florida Institute for Charter School Innovation to be housed at FSU. It would be the first step toward removing charter authorization from local districts. An earlier law to create a state level charter authorizing agency, the Florida Schools Excellence Commission was ruled unconstitutional in 2008. Former Senator John Thrasher ,President of FSU is considering John Horne to head up the Florida Institute for Charter Innovation. In 2001 Gov Bush appointed Horne as Education Commissioner, he resigned in 2004 amid numerous embarrassing examples of lack of accountability in the state’s voucher program.

    Considering the time restraints with the legislature coming to a close and the near urgent need for greater transparency in the charter school industry. A two year moratorium should be placed on all charter legislation development. On a national level it is being considered, California, New York, Chicago. On a state level counties are outraged, Broward County School Board Superintendent, John Rounci has proposed a 6 month moratorium.

    Can we mount a state wide movement to apply pressure on Governor Rick Scott, state legislators, particularly education and appropriation committee members and Florida Education Secretary Pam Stewart to place a moratorium on charter legislation for the next two years. Bills are being passed with out debate or public knowledge like HB 7037 that would require school districts to share tens of millions of dollars in construction funds with charter schools

    Pam Stewart and legislators have done little to bring about greater transparency among charter schools and require charter school operators to prove financial viability. The League must work on a state level to bring about a two year charter moratorium.
    Carol Clark Hentschel
    Education Chairman Palm Beach County

    • Florida has the second most for-profit charter schools, next to Michigan. Some states, like New York, have now prohibited for-profit charter management. This is an issue we should explore. If we could control the profit motive, we could use charters where they are needed.

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