This week news channel Local 10 in Florida has been reporting on the latest charter school to just take the money and run.
On Monday, the station reported on a mass firing at Paramount Charter School in Broward County. About a month into the school year, one by one, the teachers at the freshly launched charter were called into the office of administrator Maia Williams (sister of the school's owner, Kimika Williams Mason) and fired. Well, not all of them-- a few were offered the opportunity to keep their job is they took a pay cut (from $36K to $30K) along with a loss of all benefits.
The news channel has been relentless in noting that Paramount, like all charters, is paid for with taxpayer dollars, but privately owned. Tax dollars sucked up by Paramount so far? Over $740,000, with more to come.
The school has been through three principals, and the teachers complained of a lack of direction, policy, supplies, schedules, locks on the door-- this school is a mess. At the moment, the building is staffed with substitutes, and students complain of spending all day drawing pictures and learning nothing.
Local 10 dug a bit more, and on the second night of coverage rattled off more problems with the charter:
* on the application, Mason's only listed experience is six years with an unsecured home loan service (which is its own brand of scamster baloney). I looked-- Kimika Williams Mason is an online ghost, without so much as a the cheesy LinkdIn profile beloved by corporate reformsters.
* the listed vice-president of the company is a 22-year-old student who did not know she was listed as vp
* the corporate office is actually a virtual office, with just a phone line and e-mail address
There's more-- all bad. [Update: If you want to wallow in the deep and long-standing mess, the indispensable Mercedes Schneider has dug through the records. It's amazingly awful.] The school's honchos were given the chance to comment; Williams led off by grabbing the reporter's camera and demanding he leave. It didn't get much better from there, with a claim that the whole staff had to be fired because of bullying. Or maybe because they were too tight with the last principal to leave.
Paramount has a facebook page and a website, neither of which note the current turmoil (the facebook page hasn't been touched since August). The website does have a nice embedded video from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
As usual, parents have been blindsided and thrown for a loop. The main marketing tool for charters continues to be the use of the word "school" which still comes with all sorts of expectations-- permanence, competence, state oversight so that a parent has the reasonable assurance that nothing too terrible can happen, and if it does, they have a recourse.
But as Paramount demonstrates, charter schools are under no obligation to provide any of those things-- particularly in Florida, where oversight is nearly non-existent. Local 10 talked to Broward School Board member Laurie Levinson, who expressed her frustration over the whole mess. Even though the local board has theoretical oversight of Paramount, unless there is a long-established pattern of bad attendance or a clear and present health risk, they can't do squat.
"Everything is a free-for-all basically," said Levinson. "And the sad
part is we're going to find this generation of kids, many of them, who
are not educated properly in these schools."
Four charters have folded in the area in the last two years. Millions tax dollars have been wasted and thousands of students have had their educations disrupted (and not that cool, profitable kind of disruption, either). In the meantime, Paramount is one more scam that is perfectly okay under Floroda's Anyone Can Play School charter laws.
Campbell Brown's charter-loving website just ran a piece calling for tougher policing of bad charters because they sully the name of charters. I'd argue that scams like Paramount sully the name of "schools," and that states like Florida ought to stop letting charter money-sucking scam acts call themselves 'schools" at all.