North Port, Florida, could prove to be the tipping point for the Imagine Schools chain of charter schools. When the local board of Imagine North Port decided last week to sever ties with Imagine and become an independent charter named Sarasota Preparatory School, it was yet another loss for Imagine, which has been losing schools by the handful over the past few years.
And Imagine isn’t taking the defection lying down. It’s decided to fight back, hard.
After the Board sent an email to parents describing the break, Imagine Schools “hijacked parent email addresses from our contact lists and sent all of you an email,” according to a post on the new school’s Facebook page. If the national Imagine doesn’t normally have access to parents’ email, yet it managed to send a message to parents by hacking into the school’s list, that looks a whole lot like an act of desperation.
Imagine claims the Board’s actions are illegal and it still runs the school. It has suspended the school’s principal and sued the Board for $15,000. There’s going to be a court hearing Tuesday. Now it’s performing damage control at other schools to make sure this defection doesn’t turn into a snowball rolling down Imagine Mountain and carrying other schools away with it. Imagine can’t sustain many more school losses and remain viable.
On February 22, Imagine CEO Dennis Bakke sent a letter to the leadership of Imagine Palmer Ranch in Florida which was copied onto the school’s parent newsletter. The letter has what I’ve been told are factual inaccuracies, along with an underlying tone of bullying with a hint of desperation thrown in: You’d better not do anything like North Port tried! Please?
Imagine has a history of demanding absolute loyalty from its staff, especially its administrators. It’s been known to fire principals for complaining about not having enough funds to educate their students, then hiring more compliant people to fill their spots. So the folks at Imagine Palmer Ranch are likely walking on eggshells, fearful of what might happen if they show the slightest support for the school at North Port.
Imagine’s CEO Dennis Bakke was on Rick Scott’s education transition team and obviously feels as if he’s in a strong position. Safier includes the entire letter signed by Bakke and his wife. Here’s the conclusion of the letter that Bakke and his wife signed:
As you can see, our actions demonstrate our commitment to positively resolve this matter with the least amount of disruption to our students, teachers, and families. We also recognize the need to protect the integrity of Imagine North Port and faithfully execute our responsibility to ensure that it is governed in accordance with the mission and purpose of Imagine Schools Non-Profit. We will continue to take all necessary action to ensure Imagine North Port is governed accordingly.
Our Commitment –
Our initial court date is now scheduled for Tuesday, February 26th. The legal and factual arguments in this situation are strongly favorable for Imagine Schools Non-Profit. We remain hopeful that the courts will act immediately and bring quick resolution to this matter.
As we await the court’s ruling, we continue to reassure teachers and parents that Imagine North Port is – and will continue to remain – a part of our Imagine Schools family. We are committed to our continuing partnership with the parents, authorizer, and community of North Port.
We will keep our Imagine leadership updated as we make progress in resolving this situation. In the meantime, please be sure you share this update with those who may have questions or concerns about what is taking place.
The Florida policymakers who are cheerleading for parent trigger and wanting to turn over public school property over to charter school operators like Bakke should be having an epiphany. Charter schools were supposed to be about choice, right? Floridians are seeing that for-profit management companies like Imagine have to protect their financial interests in the end – and not those of children and their parents.