The Tampa Bay Times has now begun reporting on Charter Schools USA Hillsborough problem. Writes reporter Marlene Sokol:
Frustrated by answers her staff was getting to questions about school governance, superintendent MaryEllen Elia dispatched letters this week to the boards of three schools, saying she’ll soon move to terminate their charters.
Unlike other community leaders who often treat Elia with deference, charter board chairman Rod Jurado called her move “a pathetic attempt” to take away parental choice as she deflects attention from “abysmal” performance in the district’s schools.
At stake are the Winthrop, Woodmont and Henderson Hammock charters, with a combined enrollment last year of more than 2,000 students. All three are managed by Fort Lauderdale-based Charter Schools USA. While they have advisory boards with local representatives, leadership also comes from the nonprofit Florida Charter Educational Foundation, which has close ties to the for-profit company.
For months, Hillsborough officials tried to sort out those relationships. The issue arose in 2013 when the group was involved in a bid for a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base. Confusion over governance was one reason Elia recommended against the MacDill school. The School Board backed her up, and the group appealed to the state.
Charter Schools USA may have tipped their hand in the MacDill controversy when they pulled their application and retooled their local governing board structure. They’d never been denied an appeal to a state board filed with cronies. Did Charter Schools USA boss Jonathan Hage signal that he knew Elia had the goods on them?
But those the problems with the local governing board still exist with the other three CSUSA facilities which are drawing scrutiny from Hillsborough. Even though it appears MacDill has all local board members, will it really be providing oversight? The unanswered questions on CSUSA’s other charters could torpedo the MacDill bid.
Perhaps the clear problems with the Hage’s CSUSA business model that are at odds with Florida law explains the PR campaign focused on demonizing Elia. CSUSA is making a big deal about WTSP reporter Noah Pransky reporting on story before they got the letter. Maybe Elia remembered the manner Hage’s goons savaged her during the first MacDill brawl and she preempted them.
And Hage’s guys are indeed making it about Elia in an attempt to shield themselves from scrutiny. Why didn’t they respond to official district inquiries? Why didn’t they correct problems with the board structure as they knew chairman Ken Haiko serves on numerous CSUSA local boards all over the country?
The ferocious attack on Elia by Jurodo which also besmirched Hillsborough public schools says much about the way Hage goes about business. It leaves the impression he feels that the political access that he’s invested in over the past decade enables him to bull through anything and shields his empire from scrutiny.