Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Watchdog Report on Charter Schools ... by gimleteye

Dan Ricker of the Watchdog Report has bird-dogged the Coconut Grove fiasco called the "Arts and Minds Charter School". I have mixed feelings about the charter school movement, triggered by conservative leaders like Jeb Bush who have gone to great lengths to innovate around the failures of public education and the teachers union that protecta bad educators. While there are some charter schools that perform admirably in places where students and families have been victimized by the worst of the public education nightmares, as a whole the charter school movement depends on the conservative conviction that for-profit enterprise in education can better serve the public -- through self-interest -- than taxpayer subsidies to inefficiencies.

The problem for conservatives is that human nature regresses toward greed and abuse; such as documented by Dan Ricker in the history of the Academy of Arts and Minds in Coconut Grove. A follow-up by Ricker might detail for readers exactly who among the Miami-Dade GOP elected leaders are involved, either as shareholders or through family members or as lobbyists, for charter schools. Eye On Miami readers won't be surprised by the list, or, by the personal financial and political gain at stake.

Watchdog concludes, "... now the authorities will get to sort out how this matter finally plays out in the future." No, they won't sort it out because it is damn near impossible to take money out of someone's pocket once regulations have put it there. Conservatives have created special interest constituencies through privatization of public services -- like the school system or the military or prisons -- that are far, far more powerful and pernicious than unions. Who, among the conservative leadership, will admit that?

PAST WDR JUNE 2012 >>> Arts and Minds Charter School governance & oversight slammed by Board audit, round II is discussion at audit committee Tuesday

With the release last week of the 364 page forensic audit of the Academy of the Arts and Minds Charter School (A&M) in Coconut Grove (here is the audit link to the District’s 364 page document that includes a rebuttal from A&M management to the findings)http://mca.dadeschools.net/AuditCommittee/AC_june_26_2012/item8.pdf my investigative saga of A&M is ending since the school was first created in 2004, and was flagged by the Watchdog Report back then because it involved a “related transaction,” ...
where the building’s owner also ran the charter school. Back then, the Watchdog Report was critical of this property owner and governance relationship that had the school getting some $29,000 a month at first in rent from the nation’s fourth largest public schools district. That rent number would subsequently escalate as the schools student population increased to around $69,000 a month in 2006, and when administrative and food service costs are thrown in now in the total funding going to the school’s owner Manny Alonso-Poch, that pushed the amount to around $80,000 a month.

The school, created as a not for profit has claimed the whole building was being used as the school but there were retail outlets over the years operateing as well and now the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Pedro Garcia wants $182,000 in back property taxes but it may be with the IRS, that Alonso-Poch will have his biggest future issue. The Miami-Dade Public Schools Audit and Budget Advisory committee asked for the audit to be done months ago and that board will be meeting Tuesday to discuses the much-anticipated audit that the Watchdog Report has tracked since its inception. And in the past when the high rent and the cozy relationship the landlord had with the charter school was discussed at the audit committee. The Audit Chair back in 2006 after hearing Alonso-Poch’s rent explanation to the committee made up of accountants and tax lawyers he remarked. “There is a lot of fairy dust in the room,” Frederick “Buck” Thornburg observed at the time along with similar comments from the other skeptical audit committee members.

Further, back then, one audit committee member is now Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo, a CPA and he was there when the fairy dust comment was made but Alonso –Poch forgot that fact years later. For one day at Miami City Hall about a year ago when I was talking to Carollo. Alonso-Poch who considers himself a comedian told Carollo as he walked by to “not believe anything that I said.” As he sauntered out the lobby door of the building. The building owner who is also the pro bono attorney for A&M, has flaunted publicly some of this activity listed in the audit, including running a bar some nights. Since the school has a liquor license, but he acts like he has no care in the world when he is spotted in the neighborhood. And while he is a big fish in the little pond of the Grove, is politically connected, that did not matter with the public district’s auditors and for another take on the document go to: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/06/21/2859749/audit-coconut-grove-charter-school.html >>> And http://miami.cbslocal.com/2011/10/19/audit-ordered-for-coconut-grove-charter-school/

What about the other over 90 charter schools in Miami-Dade?

The local Public schools district has over 90 charter schools and some are great and offering parents a real choice, but with others public tax dollars are going to private interests who own properties and these public tax assets are siphoning off precious tax dollars from the struggling district. And A&M was just the most glaring example and the audit is first rate in its completeness and a thorough review that includes interviewing past staff and principals, that had student demonstrations outside the school after one popular teacher was suddenly let go back around 2006. Further, there has been a persistent concern among parent representatives over the years about the schools management, the rubber stamp school’s board, and past IRS issues in the mid 2005s came up and the Watchdog Report has about four inches of documents pertaining to the school.

And this audit is a wakeup call for other creative business people who try to use public dollars to cover mortgage costs on buildings they own in this down economy by starting a charter school in a location surrounded by three bars and restaurants on the Grove’s Commodore Plaza. In addition, years ago one of the schools employees got in the Watchdog Report’s face one night challenging why I had such an interest in A&M. She said, “Look at all the fraud that is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan,” she said. And I responded I couldn’t do anything about what is happening overseas, but in the case of A&M that I see everyday, especially when school lets out and kids run out into the small street chocked with parent’s cars picking up their kids. Not only was there a question of student safety since there are no signs indicating a school zone and their have been some incidents, but the issue of public money going into a organization with this governance and management structure was paramount and now the authorities will get to sort out how this matter finally plays out in the future.


Anonymous said...

Coconut Grove Arts and Minds Charter School is the Poster Child for charter school corruption. Textbook case. The landlord charged the school $90,000 per month rent. He owned the school so he kept the tuition. He owned the food service company so he made money feeding the kiddies. He put his out-of-town relatives on the payroll. He made friends with local politicians. Textbook scam. Then he filed for bankruptcy stiffing his creditors.

Anonymous said...

The landlord was charging the taxpayers $85,000 per month? To rent an empty failed office building? And he owned the school?

Anonymous said...

The same dude who owns Arts and Minds was getting paid to run the Food Service plan too. Plus, he was putting his out-of-town relatives on his board? Manny Poch? Puch?