While Rick Scott is telling Floridians he wants even more charter school expansion, another scandal erupts when it was learned a failed charter school principal received a $519,000 payoff. Writes Lauren Roth in the Orlando Sentinel:
An Orange County charter school that gave its principal a $519,000 departure payout was an academic failure that struggled to provide its students with basic materials and qualified teachers, an evaluation by the school district shows.
In 2011-12, NorthStar High School’s directors paid Principal Kelly Young more than twice as much money as they spent on the school’s educational program.
Including her annual salary, bonuses and payout, Young took home at least $824,000 in taxpayer money that year, not including payments she continues to receive for winding down the school’s operations.
By comparison, the school spent $366,042 on instruction, including teacher salaries, last school year, according to an audit paid for by the school.
“I have never seen an act that egregious in 15 years of working with charters,” said State Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, a charter school business administrator who started a charter school 15 years ago. State lawmakers from both parties are calling for reforms to the charter law that would add transparency and accountability.
“What have we done?” said state Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, an educator for nearly four decades and a legislator on a key education budget committee. “How did we let this happen and how can we correct it?”
NorthStar’s lavish payment to their principal was not an isolated instance. In 2010-11, when Young’s contract called for $305,000 in pay, the school spent $372,009 on instruction. Her pay made up a third of the school’s budget that year.
The school lacked computers, a library or cafeteria services at its facility in concrete portables on Curry Ford Road. According to the January report by Orange County Public Schools, the school’s reading teacher was not certified in reading and NorthStar didn’t have someone certified to teach English language-learners.
“I didn’t see curriculum materials that I thought would result in academic improvement for students,” said Ronnie DeNoia, principal of A-rated Lake Eola Charter School. She was on a panel that toured the school for the report, which was part of NorthStar’s contract renewal process.
“That school served a haven purpose, not an academic purpose.”
Nearly three quarters of NorthStar’s students failed the state reading test, and half failed in math. But students who attended say it was the first school where they felt supported.
In June, the charter school’s board cited Young for “leadership” and “providing an excellent educational opportunity for at risk and underprivileged children in Orange County” in its resolution authorizing the payout of more than $500,000 upon the school’s closing.
Young was president of the board for the past three years and was a voting member, said her lawyer, Usher “Larry” Brown. The state’s top official overseeing charter schools said that serving as principal and board president is a conflict of interest.
The outrage from Legg and Sen. David Simmons is especially rich as it is they who have been passing legislation which created the system where such abuse can occur. They know that they have intentionally tied the hands of school boards and forced them into dolling out taxpayer dollars to corrupt charter school operators. Oversight no longer belongs to local elected school members but belongs to the political appointees on the state board. Florida’s board is currently chaired by Jacksonville KIPP chairman Gary Chartrand.