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Governor Pat McCrory and Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage

Governor Pat McCrory and Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage

Governor Pat McCrory toured a Cary charter school Thursday with the head of that school’s for-profit education management organization, Charter Schools USA.

“He’s just here to highlight a good school,” said Eric Guckian, McCrory’s education advisor, when asked what prompted the Governor’s visit Thursday to Cardinal Charter Academy, which opened its doors to grades K-6 last August.

Jonathan Hage, the CEO of Charter Schools USA, a Florida-based education management organization that operates three charter schools in North Carolina and 70 schools overall in seven states, told N.C. Policy Watch he’d like to increase the number of schools his EMO operates in the Tar Heel state.

“We hope to earn the opportunity [for expansion] by doing a great job here,” said Hage in reference to Cardinal Charter, pointing to the school’s use of “high technology” and a strong discipline policy.

Hage, who has reportedly contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to political campaigns around the country, also cut checks to three North Carolina lawmakers’ campaigns in 2014 — $2,500 each to Senator Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph), Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) and Sen. Fletcher Hartsell (R-Cabarrus, Union).

Gov. McCrory & Charter Schools USA CEO Hage

Gov. McCrory & Charter Schools USA CEO Hage

“We support anyone who supports more school choice for kids and does that in a responsible way,” said Hage when queried about his campaign donations.

Last week, Senator Tillman filed legislation that would make it easier for national education management organizations, like Charter Schools USA, to expand and replicate their model across the state.

It’s not the first time Sen. Tillman has filed legislation that would ease the path for for-profit national EMOs. Last year, Tillman sponsored legislation that set up a fast-track process for replication of high quality charter schools and a process for EMOs to take over other failing charter schools.

Tillman and other GOP leaders have reportedly expressed frustration in the past about the pace of charter school expansion in North Carolina since the 100 school cap on the number of charters allowed to operate in the state was lifted back in 2011.

Last year, Charter School Advisory Board member Alan Hawkes rebuked his colleagues for failing to greenlight more charter schools, saying GOP leaders want to see “operators come into the state like they did in Louisiana and other states and quickly affect the public school choice landscape for the better and in quantity.”

Hawkes also indicated in an email to other Charter School Advisory Board members that he received heat from Sen. Jerry Tillman about the low number of approved charter school applications.

Charter Schools USA has come under criticism for running a real estate racket in Florida. A report by the Florida League of Women Voters finds that the for-profit EMO diverts taxpayer money for education to private pockets through shady dealings that result in high real estate leasing fees – paid for by the public.

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K12, Inc.As expected, the State Board of Education gave its blessing Thursday to two virtual charter schools applying for a new pilot program set up by the state legislature.

The new public schools will allow students to take their entire course loads remotely, and stand to send millions in public education dollars to two companies that will manage the daily operations of the virtual schools.

N.C. Policy Watch has been covering the push by K12, Inc., the company behind the N.C. Virtual Academy, since 2011 to open a virtual charter school in North Carolina. The company has been criticized in other states for its aggressive lobbying of public officials to open schools, as well as low academic results from many of the public schools it manages.

On Thursday, the state board also decided to drop a requirement that would have required schools to provide or pay for learning coaches for students whose parents can’t serve in that role.

Here’s more from my article earlier today:

Get ready to add “attend third-grade” to the growing list of things you can do over the Internet in North Carolina, after ordering pizzas and watching cat videos.

The State Board of Education, which oversees public education in the state, is expected to approve two charter schools today that will teach children from their home computers in schools run by Wall Street-traded companies.

Daily monitoring would be in the hands of “learning coaches,” a role that’s been filled by parents, guardians and athletic coaches in the more than 30 other states that offer publicly-funded virtual schooling options.

Today’s anticipated vote of approval (click here to listen to an audio stream of today’s meeting) will be a significant change of the state board, which fought an attempt in the courts from the N.C. Virtual Academy to open up a virtual school three years ago.

If approved, the N.C. Virtual Academy (to be run by K12, Inc., NYSE:LRN) and N.C. Connections Academy (to be run by Connections Academy, owned by education giant Pearson, NYSE:PSO) will be able to enroll up to 1,500 students each from across the state, and send millions in public education dollars to schools run by private education companies.

You can read the entire piece here.

 

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Kinston Charter Academy closed its doors back in September 2013 after years of financial mismanagement. Today, the state auditor released a report investigating the school’s financial practices.

The audit reveals allegations of fraud and abuse that took place on the watch of the school’s CEO and Principal, Ozie Hall Jr. Some of the most eyebrow-raising findings include:

School overstated attendance estimate which inflated state funds received by more than $300,000.

School employed Chief Executive Officer/Principal’s (CEO) unqualified relatives, at a cost of $92,500 in the School’s final year.

Despite ultimately owing more than $370,000 in payroll obligations, questionable payments of more than $11,000 were made to the CEO and his wife.

Despite the School’s dire financial situation, the board approved several expenses already paid by cashier’s check and often with limited supporting documentation. These expenses included vacation leave payouts to the CEO and his wife, who was serving as the board chair, and a new laptop computer for the CEO.

Investigators also had trouble verifying Hall’s past experience running a school:

Although the CEO received degrees in education and administration, his background lacked key qualifications for the position as specified in the School’s 2004 charter. He told investigators that he “ran an alternative school” in Wilmington, Delaware from 1986 to 1990. However, the CEO provided no documentation (no information on students, teachers, curriculum, address, hours of instruction) to support that claim. The Delaware Department of Education and Delaware Public Archives could not verify the school’s existence.

And then there’s this finding:

The CEO’s daughter was hired as the School’s academic officer despite a lack of teaching or school administration experience. She received $40,000 in salary during the 2012-13 school year. The CEO said her duties included monitoring lesson plans for elementary school classes and helping with implementation of Common Core standards. The daughter was a recent college graduate with a degree in American Studies. The CEO told us that she had never worked in a school previous to her employment at the School. She replaced the associate principal who had over 20 years of experience in public schools with her most recent job as “an assistant to the Superintendent” according to the CEO.

Reached by phone, Hall, who is now head of Anderson Creek Club Charter School in Harnett County, said the auditor’s report reflects basic incompetence.

“The fact that they couldn’t find it [the Wilmington, DE alternative school] is another reflection of incompetence,” said Hall. “The report contains outright fabrications.”

State Board of Education chair Bill Cobey says the board will be seeking a legislative fix this session to allow them more authority in dealing with financially troubled charter schools.

Click here to read the full report.

News

The former principal of embattled Charlotte public charter school Entrepreneur High says he plans to file a complaint Friday afternoon to seek reinstatement as head of the school and the ability to reopen its doors early next week.

“Yes, I plan to reopen the school,” Dr. Hans Plotseneder told N.C. Policy Watch Friday. “My termination [as principal] was not following the legal procedure…it was wrongful and I need to be reinstated. My lawyer is on the way to court now.”

Dr. Plotseneder says the chairman of the nonprofit board for Entrepreneur High School, Mr. Robert L. Hillman, did not follow proper procedure when he added new members to the board on January 18. On that day, says Plotseneder, Hillman then had enough votes to formally terminate him as principal (he was fired before Christmas) and get the green light to close the school’s doors.

Mr. Hillman could not be reached for comment Friday.

Entrepreneur High School abruptly shut down a week ago. The school only had $14 in its bank account and enrollment was far below the statutory minimum of 65 students. New Hanover Schools superintendent Tim Markley, who served as a reviewer of Plotseneder’s multiple applications to the state to open EHS, told N.C. Policy Watch he voted against its opening twice, saying “the financials weren’t there.” Read More

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The struggling charter school Entrepreneur High School has shut its doors, leaving dozens of students scrambling to find new schools to finish out the academic year.

Tim Markley, New Hanover schools superintendent and a reviewer of Entrepreneur’s application, told N.C. Policy Watch he didn’t think the school should have opened.

“The application [for Entrepreneur] came forward two years in a row and I voted against it twice. The entire board turned it down the first time,” said Markley, who previously served on the N.C. Charter Schools Advisory Council.

“Honestly, I thought the financials were’t there,” said Markley. “Their plan for implementing a vocational program wasn’t there. The plan included a lot of vocational teachers, but didn’t exhibit an understanding of the business side of running a school. I was critical of it both times.”

Markley’s assessment was overruled by two other advisory council members who decided to allow Entrepreneur to open, even though they also expressed reservations about the financial and academic plans of the school that can be read in the school’s application here.

Entrepreneur High School is a vocational public charter school that had hoped to enroll 180 students in its first year. But it only attracted 78 students to start with last September, said the head of the N.C. Office of Charter Schools, Dr. Joel Medley. By January, only 31 students were attending classes.

Those low enrollment numbers — and the fact that the school continued to lose students throughout the fall — left the school in dire financial straits.

Speaking of Dr. Hans Plotseneder, the founder of the school who was fired by its board just before Christmas, Markley said, “he had a lot of passion for the school, but he didn’t have the wherewithal to start a school.”

Andrew Dunn of the Charlotte Observer reported today that Plotseneder plans to reopen the school with a combination of state funds he believes he can secure next month, loans, and a plan to sublease part of the school’s building. His hopes to have a charter management organization (CMO) take over the school eventually.