While charter management at the NYC Charter School Center and the New York Charter School Association continue to offer an unqualified defense of for profit charter management organizations [CMOs] and extravagant AIG and Goldman Sachs type salaries for New York charter executives, all extracted from public money intended for education, today’s New York Times has an in-depth, page one story with the latest revelations of profiteering in the charter school industry.
The subject of the Times’ article is Imagine Schools, now the largest for profit CMO in the United States. [On its web page, Imagine says it "will operate as a nonprofit organization," but as the Times points out, "Imagine is not a nonprofit group, and it has so far failed to gain status as a charity from the I.R.S."]
“Regulators in some states have found that Imagine has elbowed the charter holders out of virtually all school decision making — hiring and firing principals and staff members, controlling and profiting from school real estate, and retaining fees under contracts that often guarantee Imagine’s management in perpetuity,” the Times reports. “The arrangements, they say, allow Imagine to use public money with little oversight.”
The Times reports an e-mail by Imagine CEO Dennis Bakke in which he “cautioned his executives against giving boards of schools the ‘misconception’ that they ‘are responsible for making big decisions about budget matters, school policies, hiring of the principal and dozens of other matters.’ Instead, he wrote, ‘It is our school, our money and our risk, not theirs’.” Not exactly the perspective of a not for profit educator, is it?
One New York City charter school, Bronx Academy of Promise, was founded in partnership with Imagine Schools, only to have the board of the school break their contract after one year. “It was rather baffling, but as a management company, they weren’t providing any management services,” a person who has worked with the school told the Times anonymously for fear of retaliation. “With the exception of payroll processing and some accounting support, it wasn’t really clear what they were doing for the school.” And yet Imagine was taking in nearly 15¢ of every dollar of public money sent to the school. [Last month, teachers at Bronx Academy of Promise organized with the UFT.]
Imagine charter schools across the country are finding that funds that should have been going into classrooms were being diverted into exorbitant management fees, usurious loans and real estate deals with Imagine as landlord.
And still the NYC Charter School Center and the New York Charter School Association answer the “which side are you on?” refrain of the classic union song, emphatically, with the side of for-profit charter management organizations.