Wednesday, October 7, 2015

FL: Another Charter Scam

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. 


  1. I don't know, I guess I'm not being politically correct and I'm blaming the victim, but what the hell kind of parent enrolls their child in such a school and what kind keeps them there? I visited my children's school several times before I ever enrolled them. I talked to many different admins, teachers and current parents. I toured the classrooms and watched classes in action. I have been in at least weekly personal contact ever since. If my child came home saying all they do is draw pictures all day, I'd be all over that like flies on, well, you know.

    How bad do you have to think public schools are in order to think that this is a better alternative? How much kool-aid do you have to drink? And sorry, but how ignorant do you have to be?

  2. Dear Dienne,

    Well, yes. Except these people were sold something by people who are experts not in education but in very dishonest marketing. They are GOOD at marketing. This is a new venue for scam artists, though. What middle class mom or pop has ever said, “Yeah, my public school lied to us. They just took our community money and closed up. I didn't even have a third grade. I (sniff,) never learned my multiplication tables. All those times I ...I...“solved” problems to help you with your homework? ...just guesses. Bawll!!! I'm so ashamed!”

    No. The common experience in public schools was to have had competent teachers and a school or district curriculum that ensured that each grade level covered the material. The idea that public schools are “failing” was, and is, a very long term marketing strategy, and no one was ready for it.

    So, totally new thing! They are being taken in by a scam approved by all the officials from the Secretary of the Department of Education, through the Sate Departments of Education, and even on down to the local charter school approval boards, although it's worth noting that the local school board in this case does not seem to be very happy to have had to approve the Paramount School. I'm not sure the entire education structure has ever had a scandal. Can anyone think of one? We're just beginning to see this corruption get exposed. You kinda wonder if Arne Duncan is tip-toeing away right before the deluge. That would not surprise me in the least.


  3. I think charter marketing benefits from the assumptions people make about a place called a "school." It will always be there. It's run by people, and staffed by people, whose qualifications have been checked by the state. And because they are a government entity, surely they won't tell the kind of bald-faced advertising lies that people selling snake oil would.

    It's similar to the pre-2008 years when so many people assumed that major financial institutions wouldn't flat out lie and cheat.

    Parents are behind the learning curve at the moment, and have not yet all caught on to how much due diligence is necessary when dealing with a charter.

  4. Dear Mr. Greene:

    Yeah-after the Depression, banking fraud was held in check by various Regulatory Acts, until bankers figured they could pay off legislators to get rid of all of those pesky rules.

    The scam charters are using the reputation of public schools because, yes, for a hundred years, schools have had competent teachers following a curriculum designed to cover the material.

    I'm thinking of Papal Indulgences and telemarketing ministries right now, because the only thing more outrageous than using the good reputation of public schools is using the good reputation of God. Bankers ...meh...always have been suspect. “Some people rob you with a fountain pen.”

    But also: John King...there to take the fall? I'm probably way too eager to think, that, as Mr. Duncan is moving swiftly out the door, it signifies his house of cards is wobbling. Speculation, anyone? Dish, please!


  5. Charter schools studied the methods of Harold Hill and the con men of The Sting. They are very good at selling parents on enrolling.

  6. Dear Mr. Sampson:

    When my older son was in High School, they put on "The Music Man." I was one of the Town-folk, "Pick a Little, Talk a Little!" I am also old enough to remember "The Sting." Ha, Ha, YES! That is exactly the scam mentality going on here!



  7. Dear Mr. Peter Greene,

    So we have Arne Duncan leaving his position. What does that mean? Is this a little ray of hope that he is leaving before all Hell breaks loose? And go below for the George Carlin quote. Is all Hell about to break loose as far as all the multiple scams: scam charter schools, scam deals with testing companies, scam deals with tech companies. I trust you will report if anyone else digs down.

    George Carlin would have liked it:

    “I'm not concerned about all hell breaking loose, but that a PART of hell will break loose... it'll be much harder to detect.” Comedy Gold.

    It is very subtle who is connected to who. Thank you for everything you do, Sir.

    A fan,