Academica Charter Schools Under Federal Investigation

UPDATE: Herald has reposted st

UPDATE after the bump

From Kathleen McGrory in the Miami Herald:

The state’s largest charter school management company has come under scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Education for potential conflicts of interests in its business practices, federal authorities have confirmed.

The Education Department’s Inspector General Office is auditing the South Miami-based Academica Corp. as part of a broader examination of school management companies nationwide. The audit will be complete this summer, department spokeswoman Catherine Grant said.

A preliminary audit report obtained by the Herald/Times identified potential conflicts of interest between the for-profit company Academica and the Mater Academy charter schools it manages. One example the auditors cited was the transfer of money from Mater Academy to its private support organization, which shares the same board of directors.

The Education Department’s findings come as the Florida Legislature considers a bill that could weaken school districts’ ability to control business practices at new charter schools.

The preliminary audit report hones in on the Mater Academy family of schools in Miami-Dade County. Fernando Zulueta founded the original Mater Academy in 1998 and was a member of its governing board until Sept. 2004.

The auditors found that three of the schools in the network — Mater Academy, Mater High and Mater East — entered into leases with development companies tied to the Zulueta family. Two of the leases were executed while Zulueta sat on the Mater board.

In addition, Mater Academy hired an architectural firm from 2007 through 2012 that employs Fernando Zulueta’s brother-in-law, state Rep. Erik Fresen, the report said.

“We identified four related-party transactions, two of which indicated, at a minimum, the appearance of conflicts of interest between Mater Academy and its CMO [charter-management company],” the auditors wrote.

Fresen declined to comment Friday.

The report also pointed to a potential conflict of interest between Mater Academy in Hialeah Gardens and its non-profit support organization Mater Academy Foundation.

Its hard to count the number of times that McGrory used “conflicts of interest” in her story. No word yet of whether or not the Federal Department of Education will use its SWAT team to raid the Zulueta compound.

Or any of the offices belonging to the three Florida republican legislators with close ties to the Zuluetas.

Aside from Fresen’s connection, two Miami senators Manny Diaz and Anitere Flores, are employed by the Zulueta’s at their Doral College. Diaz makes $100,00o a year as Academic Dean. Flores presumably makes more as President and has close ties to former governor Jeb Bush after having served as his Education Policy Chief.

Will this finally be the time that state republican legislators pay a political price for their charter school fetish? How long can they continue to turn a blind eye toward such conflicts of interest?

This time, its the Feds doing the investigating.

In 2009, republican House Speaker Ray Sansom was kicked out by his own party in part for earmarking funds for Northwest Florida State College where he later took a $110,000 a year position. This really isn’t far from what Floridians are facing now with the Academica Three.

The greatest irony of all is that Sansom now works for a for-profit charter school, too.

UPDATE: Not long after publishing this post, the Miami Herald pulled McGrory’s story. A blogging colleague, Mike Klonsky, contacted the Herald and spoke with Editor Jeff Kleinman who told him that “the paper had “jumped the gun” and that the story was pulled because it was “incomplete” and would reappear in tomorrow’s paper.”

H/T to Klonsky for pointing out that I had incorrectly identified Kathleen McGrory as Mary McGrory.








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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One Response to Academica Charter Schools Under Federal Investigation

  1. JupiterMom says:

    Keep us posted on why this story was pulled. I find that very concerning. This whole story is very concerning.

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