08 June 2015

What's Wrong with Charter Schools in One Story

Every time that someone looks at a charter school's operation we find repeated instances of corruption, self dealing, and dodgy accounting:
Dennis Mope’s dream of running a network of military-themed charter schools for at-risk students ended quickly and with little warning this month in Jacksonville and Orlando.

Two of Mope’s Acclaim Academy charter schools closed abruptly, displacing hundreds of students just three weeks before the end of the school year.

A third school in Kissimmee was supposed to close in March but Osceola County’s school district took it over last month and will keep it open until the school year ends in June.

Five other of Mope’s planned Acclaim Academies never got off the ground.

Although one received district approval to open in Palm Beach next August, the plan was scrapped. Four other charter school applications in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Volusia and Lee counties were all withdrawn, some before they were rejected by the school districts involved.

In Jacksonville, the fallout was immediate and unexpected.

Parents of 229 students scrambled over three days to find new schools for their children. Some students still had to take final tests or state-mandated exams at new schools.

Duval County School Board members said they are not sure why the school “ran out of money” and had to close, saying the children were hurt most.

“They should be focused on passing their exams; they shouldn’t have to worry about what school they’re going to go to,” said Becki Couch, a School Board member, “all because their charter school [operator] didn’t have its act together.”

Scott Shine, another Duval County School Board member wrote that “The actions of Acclaim are, at minimum, irresponsible and reckless. This could go much deeper,” in an email.

Acclaim’s teachers were shocked to find out that their last paycheck, issued late April or early May, was to be their last. Some teachers, who had arranged for the school to save parts of their paycheck to repay them over the summer, were told not to expect it.

Some Duval School Board members questioned what the school district knew, and when, about Acclaim Academy’s troubles.

“We knew they were beginning the school year under a deficit,” Couch wrote in an email to Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

“Do you think the Board should have been notified of the declining financial status of the school so we could make the determination how we wanted to proceed so as not to disrupt student academic learning during this pivotal time of the year? I am disturbed that we have been completely blind-sided by this when according to state statute the Charter School is required to provide an annual audit report and monthly financial statements.”


Through it all, Acclaim Academy’s founder has yet to answer questions.

Dennis Mope, an Orlando-area businessman, said “no comment” to news crews on the scene of the Orlando school closure, and he did not return phone calls or emails about Duval’s closure.

Public documents, including a Chapter 13 bankruptcy he filed in 2009, reveal some information about him.


Of the three Acclaim charter schools that operated in the past two years, the oldest was in Osceola County. Since the school opened in 2012, it had two consecutive F grades on its state report cards, triggering a law that caused the state to begin the process of shutting down the school.

Acclaim’s parent company applied for a waiver of the state law but, when it was denied, it made plans to close the school at the end of March.


The school started last fall with 416 students, but that fell to 332 by February. In March enrollment was down to 310 prompting Orange County administrators to request an amended school budget showing how the school could survive with fewer students than expected.

But, upon closer inspection, the district noted other irregularities in the school’s operations and finances:
  • Some teachers listed as heading classes left the school and others have become assistant principals and deans. Too many substitutes were teaching classes.
  • School reading teachers weren’t qualified for the subject, the county said, possibly violating federal Title 1 poverty funding rules.
  • The school did not employ the required instructors to serve its students with disabilities.
  • A student who missed 51 days had changes to her records to make it appear she had attended and had passed classes for that period.


There were financial irregularities, too.

In its April letter, Orange County said Acclaim violated state law by borrowing $350,000 when its school was already $151,061 in the hole Feb. 28.

The school also cut a deal to transfer future per-pupil state funding to a charter asset management fund. The deal promised $150,000 in April and May and $222,000 in June, though the school would likely face “severe reductions” in state funding because of enrollment declines and misrepresentations, Orange County said, adding that the deal’s promise to turn over other school assets may violate state law.

Orange County also questioned how Acclaim’s four “corporate” positions, including Mope’s, were being funded, saying it’s improper to use students’ money from the three charter schools for non-education functions.

Those salaries and some loans among the Acclaim schools amounted to commingling funds in a way that may violate state law, the district wrote.


That explanation wasn’t good enough for Heyta Diaz, whose two freshman daughters were placed at Ed White High and were told they might have to take a virtual course to catch up.

Diaz said she wants to confront Acclaim’s founder and ask him and the district some questions about why the Duval Acclaim closed.

“This guy opens and closes schools like its a day care,” she said. “This is our future. This is our kids.”
Charter schools are petri dishes for corruption and looting, and they need to be regulated accordingly.

H/t Atrios


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