Did For-Profit Charter Schools Try to Influence Decision on Polk Charter Schools?


On June 15, Rep. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) told Polk county school superintendent Sherrie Nickel that she “didn’t understand why Polk needed it’s own at-risk charter schools.” She also said that she “was worried about the oversight” of the 7 proposed facilities.

That a state legislator would insert themself into an issue outside their decision-making, was a curious one. The decision on any facility belongs to local school boards, the DOE and the state board. While Stargel serves and leads one of three committees or subcommittees on education, she had no business meddling in the issue -even if it was in her home town.

Stargel made no more public statements on the matter, but Polk announced that opening the schools would be delayed at least until January because the blessings had not been granted from the state. Some members of the Polk SB weren’t very happy as then commissioner of education Gerard Robinson, told Nickel that “something appears to be coloring the issue.” Robinson resigned only days later. Polk received the ok to move forward Thursday on August 9th.

Why the Polk was stalled by Tallahassee remains a mystery.  But while Stargel disappeared from view, some for-profit charter school executives were sending cash contributions her way while the Polk initiative was being sorted out. In a few cases these direct contributions to Stargel were the only ones they made to any candidate during this election cycle.  Three were made by executives associated with Mavericks Charter Schools.

* Mavericks in Education Inc made two contributions during this cycle. On 7/6/12 they sent $5000 to electioneering CCE Floridians for Economic Leadership. Five days ago they sent $500 to Stargel’s campaign.

* On 6/22/12 Mavericks president Lauren Hollander  made a $5oo contribution to Rep. Janet Adkins (Fernandina Beach). One the same day as her company made a $500 contribution to Stargel, she did as well from her home address.

*Maverick’s financial backer is Building Hope, a Washington non-profit which funds for-profit charter schools. Richard Moreno was at Maverick’s meeting with Palm Beach Schools in 2010. Moreno is the executive director of Building Hope. He has only made one contribution during the current election cycle – to Stargel for $250 just 8 days ago on 8/3/12.

*Joseph Salvatore Bruno is president of Building Hope. He made a $250 donation to Stargel on the very same day as did Moreno. There is no record of Bruno making any other contributions in Florida during this election cycle.

Other charter school executives  were making contributions to Stargel during this narrow window. Katia Enriquez of After School Connections mirrored Hollander’s contributions to Adkins and Stargel on almost the same dates.  A “Bob” Haag and “Robert” Haag (Charter Schools for Excellence)  from the same address also got contributions to Stargel. Bob on 7/25/12 for $500. Robert in a more roundabout way explained here.

The Polk at-risk charter school initiative represents danger to for-profit charter schools like Mavericks. A public school model of their business plan cannot be out there for other Florida districts. Were the Maverick’s executives believing somehow they were cheerleading for Stargel? Did they feel she was running interference for them in Tallahassee? Did they – what may be as many as four different for-profit charter schools – want to halt the Polk initiative so they could force the Polk board to entertain their bids instead? Whatever the agenda,their  campaign cash target of Stargel is far too coincidental.

About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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