From Orlando Sentinel reporter Lauren Roth:
Charter Schools USA isn’t waiting for a judge to decide if it can open a disputed school in Orange County. Construction already has begun.
“They have already invested in some construction of a facility,” somewhere on or south of Narcoossee Road, district counsel Woody Rodriguez told the Orange school board this week.
The district plans to appeal a state Department of Education ruling last month that he district must allow Renaissance Charter Schools to open three new campuses in Orange.
It is unclear if Renaissance will continue to push for all three schools. The charter board has already withdrawn applications to open schools this fall in Seminole and at MacDill Air Force Base in Hillsborough County.
The chairman of the Renaissance board, which contracts with for-profit Charter Schools USA to run its public schools, said he is “appalled” that Orange is appealing and declined to answer questions about the school under construction.
“This process has been heavily influenced by politics instead of the accepted and legal process for charter application approval,” said the chairman, Ken Haiko.
Charter Schools USA and its owner, Jonathan Hage, are major donors to Gov. Rick Scott and have influenced changes to state law intended to make it easier for charter chains to open new schools.
Orange schools say they are fighting the applications on performance grounds.
Maybe it’s a strict business decision and Hage is attempting to prop up his Renaissance brand. Business Week reports that Fitch ratings has downgrade Renaissance Charter Schools in Florida:
Despite the positive enrollment trends, Fitch views the financial and debt profile metrics as low speculative grade. In fiscal 2012, the first year all Financed Schools were open, the combined entity (Renaissance Charter School, or RCS) generated a deeply negative 19.8% margin. Significant depreciation expense tied to the opening of several new facilities was a major factor in the deficit. The poor GAAP performance was in line with management’s base case projection, which forecasts continued operating deficits until fiscal 2016.
Balance sheet resources were very light at the end of fiscal 2012, with available funds covering just 8% of operating expenses and 2.5% of pro-forma debt. Fitch does not anticipate substantial improvement in these ratios over the intermediate term.
Debt profile metrics for the transaction are also weak. On a consolidated basis, the Financed Schools covered TMADS by a low 0.5 times (x) from audited fiscal 2012 net income available for debt service as calculated by Fitch. The very high TMADS debt burden (33.8%) and coverage of pro-forma debt by net income available for operations (23x) are also low speculative-grade characteristics.
So is Hage trying to “prop up” Renaissance and its record of failing schools by operating as if all is just swell? He has reason to be confident as his “investment” with the Florida Republican Party and individual GOP pols has produced legislation that has gamed the system so much that it protects him from being held accountable for his failing charters.
Meanwhile, Hage got another favor from the Florida legislature this week in an amendment tucked into a Veterans bill which standing alone is worthy of unanimous support. Sen. Garrett Richter (R-Naples) inserted the last minute amendment which greased the slides to get his disputed charter school on MacDill AFB. Its oozing sanctimonious language within CS/SB 860 is a slap in the face of the A school which has served MacDill for decades:
The Legislature finds that military families face 1342 unique challenges due to the highly mobile nature of military service. Among the many challenges that military families face is providing a high-quality education for their children without disruption. The state has a compelling interest in assisting the development and enhancement of learning opportunities for military children and addressing their unique needs.
It is the intent of the Legislature that a framework be established to address the needs of military children who, along with their families, face unique challenges due to the highly mobile nature of military service. In establishing this framework, military installation commanders are encouraged to collaboratively work with the Commissioner of Education to increase military family student achievement, which may include the establishment of charter schools on military installations. Although the State Board of Education, through the Commissioner of Education, shall supervise this collaboration, the applicable school district shall operate and maintain control over any school that is established on the military installation
Hage knows the tricky language cuts local schools off at the knees and allows him to circumvent them in the “application process.” The assertions in the first paragraph imply that military children and families have not been adequately served by Florida public schools are a mischaracterization of the facts; but those which accommodates Hage’s bidding.
Hage – who already operates failing schools in Hillsborough school district and as Postal reports, in Orange school district as well – has never failed to persuade Florida republicans to give him the sweetheart deal he wants.
Scathing Purple Musings feels that Hage may not be done getting what he wants this year as HB 377/SB 628 moves quietly through both houses of the Florida legislature as the innocuously named Educational Facilities Financing Act. Introduced by Hage’s close hometown ally, Rep. George Moraitis (R-Fort Lauderdale), it establishes a “separate state appointed board,” which will “execute financing agreements” for “private, not-for profit elementary, middle and high schools.” The bill is closely modeled to the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) 2011 proposal which seeks to establish “a state public charter school commission (the “Commission”) as an independent state agency with statewide chartering jurisdiction and authority.”
All the happy talk by mouthpieces paid by guys like Hage about “level playing fields” and “choice” options for families is morally bankrupt, deliberately misleading propaganda. All which maintains and ensures the bottom line of profit-first charter schools belonging to, well, guys like Hage.