Imagine Charter Schools boss Dennis Bakke was one of three charter school executives named to Rick Scott’s education transition team in 2010. The make-up of Scott’s team signaled that Scott was going nuclear on public schools. Only one representative of public schools was named – and a dubious one at that. Hillsborough superintendent Mary Ellen Elia had just received funding from the Bill Gates Foundation for a pilot program to evaluate teachers by test scores. Elia was one of them.
Back to Bakke and Imagine Schools. The shady manner in which Imagine operates in Florida and Missouri have been documented in this blog. Aside from having three failing schools, it was clear that Bakke’s facilities were engaging in the practice of double-dipping in which the company’s real estate arm, SchoolHouse Finance was charging rent. It seems that Imagine is operating similarly in Ohio and its remarkably drawing criticism from folks who are normally over-the-top in their support for charter schools. Writes Caitlyn Emma in POLITICO:
A subsidiary of Imagine Schools Inc., named SchoolHouse Finance, buys buildings and resells them for two or three times the purchase price. SchoolHouse Finance then leases the building from the new owner and rents the space back to Imagine. “It’s legal, but that doesn’t mean it should be,” said Greg Harris, Ohio director of StudentsFirst, an advocacy group that supports charter growth. “We don’t want charter-school operators profiting as landlords.”
— “Let’s call this what this is: Crony capitalism,” Fordham Institute President Michael Petrilli tweeted [http://bit.ly/1s7ZXzT]. At least three states and Washington, D.C. are investigating Imagine for similar practices, the Dispatch noted. One state even shuttered schools operated by Imagine. After an investigation conducted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in Missouri, the state board of education shut down six schools run by Imagine in 2012. The paper uncovered real estate deals similar to the ones happening in Ohio and poor academic performance.
Golly. When you draw the ire of the Fordham Institute AND Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, you must really be shady. So how close are Florida’s biggest for-profit charter schools to being just like Imagine? Closer than you think.
The Miami Herald’s Kathleen McGrory reported this past April that Academica Charter Schools was under federal investigation for “conflicts of interests in its business practices.” Charter Schools USA has a real estate management arm similar to that of Imagine’s in Red Apple Development.
Both the Zulueta’s who run Academica and the Hage’s who run Charter Schools USA are close to Florida republican politicians and donate heavily to their campaigns. Academica has two GOP legislators on their payroll in Sen. Aniteres Flores and Rep. Manny Diaz of Miami. The sister of Rep. Erik Fresen is married to Academica boss Fernando Zulueta. The wife of disgraced Florida and Indiana state boss, Tony Bennett, at least at one time was employed by Charter Schools USA. Jonathan Hage cut a $50,000 check to Rick Scott’s Let’s Get to Work PAC last year. Like Bakke, Hage was on Scott’s education transition team in 2010.