In case you missed the news earlier this month, Salon highlighted a new report out by the Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education that examines 15 states representing large charter school markets — and found instances of fraud, waste and abuse at charters totaling $100 million in taxpayer funds.
Perhaps most disturbingly, under the first category, crooked charter school officials displayed a wide range of lavish, compulsive or tawdry tastes. Examples include:
• Joel Pourier, former CEO of Oh Day Aki Heart Charter School in Minnesota, who embezzled $1.38 million from 2003 to 2008. He used the money on houses, cars, and trips to strip clubs. Meanwhile, according to an article in the Star Tribune, the school “lacked funds for field trips, supplies, computers and textbooks.”
• Nicholas Trombetta, founder of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School is accused of diverting funds from it for his private purchases. He allegedly bought houses, a Florida Condominium and a $300,000 plane, hid income from the IRS, formed businesses that billed even though they had done no work, and took $550,000 in kickbacks for a laptop computer contract.
• A regular financial audit in 2009 of the Langston Hughes Academy in New Orleans uncovered theft of $660,000 by Kelly Thompson, the school’s business manager. Thompson admitted that from shortly after she assumed the position until she was fired 15 months later, she diverted funds to herself in order to support her gambling in local casinos.
Others spent their stolen money on everything from a pair of jet skis for $18,000 to combined receipts of $228 for cigarettes and beer, to over $30,000 on personal items from Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, Louis Vuitton, Coach and Tommy Hilfiger. But the real damage came from the theft of resources for children’s future.
The end goal of the report, say its authors, is to warn the public about the increasing risk that communities and taxpayers face by having an inadequately regulated charter industry.
Despite rapid growth in the charter school industry, no agency, federal or state, has been given the resources to properly oversee [charter schools]. Given this inadequate oversight,we worry that the fraud and mismanagement that has been uncovered thus far might be just the tip of the iceberg.