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Troubled charter operator ASPIRA intends to open three charter schools in NC

The ASPIRA Association, a charter school operator at the heart of controversies in Chicago and Philadelphia, has filed three letters of intent to open charter schools in Mecklenberg, Union, and Iredell counties.

The NC Department of Public Instruction received 171 letters of intent last week from charter school operators keen on opening up new schools in time for fall of 2015 — the highest ever received since lawmakers lifted the 100-school cap in 2011.

ASPIRA is a national advocacy organization dedicated to developing the educational and leadership capacity of Hispanic youth. ASPIRA also supports the charter school movement in districts where significant numbers of Latino students are failing.

In Chicago, ASPIRA has run into allegations of financial corruption and misconduct at its charter schools. Last year, the CEO of ASPIRA Illinois, Jose Rodriguez, was fired by the charter operator’s board.

And in troubled Philadelphia, ASPIRA Inc. of Pennsylvania owes more than $3 million to four charter schools it runs, according to the Philadelphia City Paper. That money, according to school district officials, is taxpayer funds intended to fulfill the purposes of the charters. The organization has also spent $17,000 to a union-busting law firm to deal with a “teacher unionization issue,” according to the City Paper.

The lack of accountability with regard to ASPIRA’s fiscal house comes at a time when Philadelphia is struggling to close a budget gap of more than $300 million, prompting the layoff of nearly 4,000 teachers, counselors and other staff.

The Philly school district’s Charter School Office, which is tasked with overseeing the financial health of charter schools, apparently provides minimal financial oversight according to a 2010 report by the city’s controller. The CSO reviews charter school financial operations just during the run up to the charter’s renewal–once every five years.

In North Carolina, public charter schools must seek renewal of their charters once every ten years, although some charter schools have received shorter terms due to academic or fiscal compliance issues.

“Each charter school must have an annual, independent audit that is submitted upstairs to the Division of School Business,” explained Joel Medley, Director of North Carolina’s Office of Charter Schools told NC Policy Watch.  “There are also monitoring site visits to verify student enrollment that are made on an as needed basis.”

North Carolina is no stranger to academic, ethical and financial problems associated with its public charter schools.

Earlier this year, the N.C. Policy Watch investigation  “’A factory of excellence’?” found that the public charter school Quality Education Academy recruited nationally and internationally for a basketball team that was subsidized by North Carolina taxpayers who have sent $13 million in education dollars to the school.

And just this past month, Kinston Charter Academy surrendered its charter moments before the State Board of Education was set to initiate the process of closing the school thanks to its serious financial and academic problems. More than 230 students were left to find new schools in just a few days’ time. Questions remain surrounding the school’s financial debts and whether or not the state will be repaid.

Calls went unreturned to ASPIRA of North Carolina and the national headquarters of ASPIRA in DC.

14 Comments

  1. LayintheSmakDown

    September 14, 2013 at 9:54 am

    The issues don’t look any more “troubling” than those of any of the government schools. Financial irregularities are pretty much the norm in most school systems, hence the Asheville schools paying off their crony superintnedent with $175,000….slush funds everywhere…..teachers and TA’s having relationships with students..corrupt board members….socialism embedded in the curriculum.

  2. gregflynn

    September 14, 2013 at 10:31 am

    LayofftheSmackDude must have had a rough Friday 13th. I think you meant to say “Playing their Super Nintendo”. You do get points for not saying “you guys”.

  3. Alan

    September 14, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    LSD, there are no slush funds, just because you keep stating there is doesn’t magically make it fact. And for someone who’s ‘supposedly’ a financial expert, you should know better. I certainly wouldn’t even let you do my tax return based on the financial wizardry you spout.

    And what exactly has “teachers and TA’s having relationships with students” got to do with the cuts in the education budget? Corrupt board members? What about the corrupt board members in Wake County such as Debra Goldman? You know, the one forced to resign.

    “Socialism embedded in the curriculum”, that’s just plain right wing, tin-foil hat wearing crazy talk.

  4. LayintheSmakDown

    September 15, 2013 at 8:35 am

    Alan,
    Just because you do not understand fund balances and refuse to make any effort to analyze them does not mean they do not exist. I have presented several times the fund balances that exist and some are up to 87% of expenditures which is WAY over the usual amount a government entity would hold. Granted there are a portion of systems that hold reasonable balances, but the majority on the list have exceptional amounts. Just because you want to close your eyes and ears and shout tra la la la does not mean that no fund problem exists.

    If you are such a “financial expert” please feel free to research and prove me wrong. Maybe go to the top 10 of the list of the percentage of fund balances held and see what it is being held for and present your research. Until you do that, then you are just putting up a straw man argument that holds no merit……kind of like almost everything else that is put here to rebut my comments.

    And I see parts of the curriculum…in a conservative county no less…and there is plenty of government socialistic propaganda….that is what the common core is for after all.

  5. LayintheSmakDown

    September 15, 2013 at 8:55 am

    Not sure what you guys mean by playing super nintendo, guess it is what you do in your off time greggy?

  6. gregflynn

    September 15, 2013 at 9:28 am

    LayintheSmakDoug, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that you yourself do not understand fund balances in local government accounts, overseen by the Local Government Commission, in spite of copious amounts of supporting information. You choose to perpetuate a lie that sound fiscal stewardship equates to “slush funds”.

    The largest single source of county revenue is property tax which starts to come in late September through January while the fiscal year runs June to June. Local entities have a duty to maintain fund balances in the interim, especially when revenue is unpredictable. Schools starts before the revenue comes. The particular chart you keep alluding to is for a previous year that included atypical influxes of ARRA (stimulus) funding to counteract loss of revenue. Smaller schools districts may have modest fund balances representing high percentages because their ability to weather revenue fluctuations is not as robust as larger county LEAs (Local Education Agencies). Fund balances contain amounts, such as some booster club funds accumulating for projects, that cannot be spent by the LEA. For the most part a fund balance is a prudent estimate of obligations and the amount needed to get to payday plus a cushion in case payday doesn’t come, or some emergency does.

    Now go wake up Alex.

  7. Alan

    September 15, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    LSD,

    I don’t present myself to be something I’m not, nor do I rely on someone, or some organization, having to spoon feed me talking points on just about every topic that appears here. I’ll leave the financial analysis to people better qualified than me to comment, noting that there’s already been many, many rebuttals to your copious “slush funds” comments.

    It would appear that anything that goes against the myopic, oftentimes paranoid commentary here is simply a “straw man” argument in GOPland.
    Perhaps if you toned down the tinfoil hat wearing crazy talk such as “and I see parts of the curriculum…in a conservative county no less…and there is plenty of government socialistic propaganda….that is what the common core is for after all”, people wouldn’t feel the need to rebut your comments so often. “Government socialistic propaganda”, that’s the sort of far-right crazy talk one expects to hear on World Net Daily, increasingly from organizations such as JLF.

    Perhaps you should “present your research” on the existence of this “socialistic propaganda”, otherwise “you are just putting up a straw man argument that holds no merit”?

  8. LayintheSmakDown

    September 16, 2013 at 10:44 am

    greggy,
    I am not sure what you mean. I fully understand a fund balance….similar to equity in a public corporation. Funds availabe for use…etc. I think you are having a hard time with it as you refuse to admit that is where the slush is contained. I have never postulated that the full FB was slush. If you go back to past posts, I have related that government entities usually have about a 10% FB give or take. Compare that to the balances on the spreadsheet I have linked to multiple times and you can see the >25% FB school systems are way higher. Now take into account that some may have a building project etc….but that being said, there are plenty of funds for slush out there. Now I shall cease explaining this topic to you as you are certainly just wanting to let your partisanship cloud your judgement, that is OK, but you need to have the intelligence to admint it.

  9. LayintheSmakDown

    September 16, 2013 at 10:45 am

    Alan,
    I have presented my own reasearch and linked to a few cases of malfeasance on the part of school systems. Feel free to peruse this site and maybe have some intellictual curiosity yourself….don’t just close off because a conservative is informing you of the likelyhood of slush funds and misuse of school funds.

  10. LayintheSmakDown

    September 16, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Oh…and I forgot to say you guys….hate to disappoint greggylou.

  11. gregflynn

    September 16, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Collection of Property Taxes and Cash Flow

    Property taxes are due on September 1, but taxpayers may delay payment until January 5 without incurring a penalty. In one county in a recent year, 5 percent of the tax levy was paid in August; 4 percent in September and October; 15 percent in November; 36 percent in December; 28 percent in January; and 6 percent in all other months of the year. Such a concentration of property tax collections in the middle of the fiscal year is typical of most North Carolina cities and counties. It means that cities and counties must rely on fund balances and other revenue sources to finance expenditures during the first part of the fiscal year.

    – County and Municipal Government in North Carolina, Article 13, Revenues, by David M. Lawrence and Kara A. Millonzi, UNC School of Government, 2009.

  12. Alex

    September 17, 2013 at 7:44 am

    The team of Abbott and Costello are running true to form again ! Now they think they are ACCOUNTANTS !

  13. LayintheSmakDown

    September 17, 2013 at 11:04 am

    greggylou, that means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Of course they use fund balance at times, jsut like a private company has to use different sources of funds. BUT you have to look at the contents of that unallocated fund balance. That once again is where the slush is. You can spout off all the accounting theory you want…but that does not change where the majority of the slush is.

  14. gregflynn

    September 18, 2013 at 1:09 am

    So much for “Now I shall cease explaining this topic to you”. As long as have a child in public schools I shall not cease to resist attempts to undermine and destroy them.