Saturday, July 11, 2015

Florida Charter Scam (Part 23,174)

Can you read one more story about how a charter school was used to scam taxpayers and make one more amateur education expert rich?

This one comes from Florida, courtesy of Andrew Marra at the Palm Beach Post. I'll give you the highlights; you should follow the link for the full deal.The story is one more example of how a charter school can be used as a giant money funnel, even if it wears the noble "non-profit" badge.

Gregory James Blount was a 40-ish-year-old former model and events producer who was working his way out of bankruptcy by teaching modeling and acting classes when he decided that getting into the charter school biz seemed like a fine career move. He recruited Liz Knowles, a teacher and private school chief, to run the school and write his "Artademics" curriculum. But Knowles walked away from Blount soon after (final straw-- discovering he had created a Artademics company to cash in). Knowles recalled Blount's argument for her to stay. "Don't worry, :Liz. You'll be rich."

The Eagle Arts Academy opened up, and Blount was cashing in. What's repeatedly impressive about these scam schools is that even people with no education experience or even successful business experience can still figure out how to make big money at this game. Blount was no exception.

The technique is familiar. The non-profit school hires other companies, and that's where you make your money. Blount set up a business that he called a "foundation," though it was not registered as one. The foundation sold uniforms to students at hefty prices, and that money went to Blount. Blount's company also ran a profitable after-school tutoring program on school grounds, rent free. And when Knowles walked away from writing the school's curriculum, Blount set up a company to do that; the school paid him for that as well-- even though the curriculum was both late. A third company charged the school for consulting services as well.

The Eagles Arts charter did include a clause saying that no board members of the school could profit directly or indirectly. Blount apparently got around that by simply resigning from the board during the periods that he was making money through his companies.

So, does this story end with Blount disgraced and in handcuffs?

Nope. It ends with Blount talking about plans for opening the school for its second year in August. Hey, he admits to making mistakes, but a guy's gotta make a living. And while this may all sound shady as hell, we're only reading about it because a newspaper decided to pursue it. Blount doesn't appear to have done anything illegal under Florida law. Here's the quote from the article:

“Do we like it? No,” said Jim Pegg, who oversees the county’s charter schools for the Palm Beach County School District. “Is it legal? Yes.”

So, hats off to you, Florida, for continuing your tradition of fostering some of America's finest scams. Nice to know that even with no more swampland left to sell, Florida still offers the chance to make plenty of money in the swamps of charter schools.

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