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In case you missed it over the weekend, the Wilmington StarNews had another good editorial concerning the efforts of some of the state’s public charter schools to keep the salaries they pay secret and en effort by lawmakers to approve of the secrecy.

“The public has a right to know who works for its government agencies and institutions, how much they are paid and other important details of their employment. North Carolina’s General Statutes make that clear.

But after news organizations including the StarNews sought salary information for charter schools, a Charlotte-area state representative introduced an amendment that allows charter schools to redact the names of employees from salary lists. The House foolishly passed the amendment on Thursday; the Senate should opt for full disclosure.

At best, this amendment sets a bad precedent by shielding some public employees from full disclosure when others – including teachers in the state’s traditional public schools – do not enjoy that same protection. At worst, the amendment could go a long way toward confirming what charter school critics have been saying all along: that these schools are effectively private schools paid for with taxpayers’ money.”

The editorial goes on to provide more updates on the efforts of a charter school chain in the Wilmington area run by right-wing funder and activist Baker Mitchell

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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.

From Salon:

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.
Read the full report here.
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ICYMI, Brunswick County Public Schools official Jessica Swencki has a great essay in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer in which she explains what’s really driving a large and growing segment of the charter school movement: private, for-profit companies out to milk the public coffers.

“In North Carolina, charter schools are operated by ‘nonprofit’ corporations, which are not subject to the same laws that demand public accountability for state and local tax dollars. These ‘nonprofit’ corporations can be subsidiaries of larger for-profit corporations – all the nonprofit corporation needs is a ‘board’ of purportedly earnest, well-intentioned people during the application process. Once the charter is granted, there is very little to stop the potential exploitation of our state’s limited public education resources.

In fact, one doesn’t have to look any further than the Eastern part of the state for a case study in how savvy companies use this loosely regulated system to pocket millions of taxpayer dollars.

Click here to read the rest of Swencki’s explanation of how this scam works.

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There’s a lot of education news this week, so here’s a roundup of happenings for your Tuesday morning.

Guilford County suspends tablet program

A significant number of defective tablet computers has forced Guilford County Schools to suspend their highly anticipated technology initiative that would put tablets in the hands of thousands of middle school students.

GCS spent more than $3 million in federal Race to the Top funds on the one-to-one technology initiative. Amplify supplied the 15,000 tablets, of which thousands developed broken screens, came with unsafe chargers causing tablets to melt, and students reported problems with cases.

Read the News & Record’s story here.

K12, Inc. outsources student essay grading to India

The Idaho Virtual Academy, operated by K12, Inc., outsourced thousands of student essays for grading by reviewers in India, reports Idaho Education News.

This isn’t the first time K12, Inc. has been outed for outsourcing instructional work to laborers outside of the U.S.

K12 said this was just a pilot program to offer teachers more support. Another K12 teacher in Pennsylvania discussed how she was overwhelmed trying to grade the papers of the 300 students she was assigned for just one term.

State Board of Education member calls for increasing teacher pay to the national average

Veteran school board member John Tate called for a resolution at last week’s school board meeting to raise teacher pay to the national average.

Board chair Bill Cobey called his move out of order and tabled it for discussion at next month’s meeting.

North Carolina was in the middle of the pack for teacher pay as recently as 2008, according to the National Education Association. Today the state ranks 46th in the nation.

Are Charter Schools a Threat to Traditional Public Schools?

This WFDD story considers the conflict between state support of charter schools and the needs of the public school system in advance a WFDD-hosted community forum on school choice, charters and vouchers.

The forum is tonight at 7 p.m. at the Kulynych Auditorium in the Wake Forest University Welcome Center.

Election Day school bond

It’s Election Day, and the contentious $810 million Wake School bond is on the ballot for voters to decide on today. The bond would provide funds to build new schools, renovate others and provide for improved technology as the district looks forward to increased population growth.

Opponents of the bond question the accuracy of the county’s enrollment projections and worry that residents will be burdened by both the 10-percent property tax increase and the additional debt they’ll incur if the measure passes.

The News & Observer has loads of coverage on the bond issue here.