Last month I noticed a story out of St. Lois, MO about Imagine Schools, the largest for profit charter management chain in the country.
Imagine Schools operates 75 schools in 12 states and the District of Columbia. As a full-service charter school operator, Imagine is basically a multi-state “school district” educating approximately 40,000 students (about the same size as the Newark public school system, while larger than Cincinnati, Minneapolis, or Buffalo).
Their St. Lois schools are failing - big time. So much so the mayor called for every single school they operate in his city to be shut down. Imagine not only operates the schools, they also make a killing buying, selling and leasing the facilities that their charters occupy. They have a whole separate arm of their business that handles these transactions called Schoolhouse Finance. Such an innocuous sounding name, isn't it? Conjures up images of a little red schoolhouse in the middle of a prairie.
Except for this:
EDUCATION INC. – Part I: Private company skirts public boards in running tax-funded charter schools; For-profit makes decisions for tax-funded Imagine
In April 2006, when Willis announced he wanted to start a charter school, Imagine Schools Inc. was already on site and involved – a year before the board would have its first meeting. In September of that year, Imagine-Fort Wayne Charter School Inc. was formed, allegedly the local organization that would start the school and contract with Imagine Schools Inc. of Virginia to run it.
But the contact person for the non-profit Imagine-Fort Wayne Charter School was Imagine Schools Inc.’s executive vice president, Jason Bryant, and the corporation’s address was Bryant’s house in Fort Wayne. The incorporator was Imagine Schools’ attorney, Joseph Miller, of Baker & Daniels in Indianapolis.
Two months later, the local non-profit filed for tax-exempt status with the IRS – the paperwork was again handled by Miller – and signed a contract with Imagine Schools Inc.
The contract was signed by Willis; board members never publicly discussed it or voted on it, as it would be five months before their first meeting. Instead, they signed a resolution that claims it has the same authority as if it had been approved unanimously by the board at a public meeting.
Indiana Public Access Counselor Andrew Kossack said there is no provision in the state’s Open Meetings Act that would allow such action. State law requires all public bodies to take all official action during public meetings.
That contract gave away the board’s power to make decisions on issues such as busing, hiring and the name of the school itself. It also gave Imagine Schools Inc. 12 percent of every penny the school took in. (emphasis mine)
Mr. Moran, I ask you to look into whether any of the four Imagine backed applications made it through last October's round of applications. Like I said, I am not an investigative journalist, just a nosy mom trying to protect her kid's schools. Unlike Governor Christie and Acting Commissioner Cerf, I do not want to see for profit charter networks that are unaccountable to taxpayers "outsource the operation" of ANY kid's school, thank you very much.