Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Prime Prep Ends With a Whimper

Prime Prep Academy was going to be one of the great celebrity-based charters, an educational experience spearheaded by a high-profile rich guy famous for accomplishments having nothing to do with education.

The story of Prime Prep Academy has been long and troubled. Well, troubled anyway. The school launched in 2012, on top of the charter bubble. It was meant to be a college prep academy that would be a launching pad for the best high school athletes around. It was a tremendous mess from the very beginning.

For more complete reading about the full-on mess that was Prime Prep, I recommend two articles-- a good summary by Barry Petchesky at Deadspin, and Amy Silverstein's fully fleshed-out and researched piece for the Dallas Observer. But even a brief highlight reel is nstructional.

Sanders partnered with Damien Wallace, who right off the charter application bat set himself up to be paid rent with taxpayer money. The application also included corporate partners who weren't actually partners, and it apparently cut and pasted portions of other school applications. None of these problems slipped by Texas regulators-- but they approved the charter anyway. Silverstein seems a bit surprised by that; perhaps she was unaware that using the rental payment shell game is a not-uncommon way for charter operators to turn a handy profit.

The whole launching-pro-careers thing turned out to be problematic. Graduates found that they weren't eligible to play in college. So the whole point of the school was in question.

Computers were stolen. The school was evicted over a rent dispute. Administrators came and went quickly. Sanders and Wallace became locked in a power struggle, each trying to drive the other out. Sanders frequently expressed displeasure with the amount of money he was making. Several individuals, including Wallace, alleged that Sanders physically assaulted them. Sanders was fired.

Last July, Texas finally announced it would pull the plug. The alleged last straw was having the feds yank the school's eligibility for free and reduced lunches, given the schools mis-handling of previous federal lunch funds. Their finances were a mess, and Texas found them out of compliance with state education code.

Sanders vowed to save his school and as recently as last week there will still rumors (based, possibly, on statements by Sanders) that Prime Prep would be merging with Triple A Academy. Not the first merger rumor to be floated. Triple A's founder and chief flatly denied that any such merger was in the works.

So as Prim Prep limps into 2015, the charter board could not even manage to close the door on themselves. The school was being run by a state-appointed superintendent and board of managers.  Monday the non-profit board of directors attempted to hold a meeting to surrender its charter, but that was canceled when they were unable to gather a quorum. Tuesday the state was granted a final default judgment against the charter in its final appeal.

It remains now to be seen if Prime Prep has enough money to finish the year. According Jeff Mosier in the Dallas Morning News, the school is facing $75K in legal bills, lost $40K in a lawsuit, and owes $45K to the state agriculture department. Plus they have a monthly rent bill of $12.5K.

Texas handed Prime Prep $8.5 million in aid and the feds chipped in a chunk of change as well. That bought two and a half years of high profile celebrity charter hijinks with no educational benefits for the students caught in this mess.

When choice and charter advocates are making their arguments about how competition promoted excellence and choice makes for better educational opportunities for all students, they will probably not bring up this celebrity-stoked unsupervised amateur-hour waste of time, money and resources.

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