Ms. Pedersen is right to be concerned. It takes only a 20-second Google search to see how public money has been lost to charter school real estate schemes and related "Crony capitalism" (a quote from pro-charter Fordham President Michael Petrilli - see Ohio article below).
While obviously not every charter school group engages in this type of practice, it isn't a rare occurrence either. And what type of oversight is there to ensure this practice won't expand further in Arizona? More than a few local charter schools have already formed private 'holding' groups inside of their initial 501(c)3 non-profits so the public can't see how - and where - their money is being spent.
A few recent CHARTER SCHOOL REAL ESTATE SPECULATION HEADLINES:
MISSOURI - Imagine schools' real estate deals fuel company growth (10/30/2011) -
"When students first entered Imagine Academy...four years ago, their school was already entangled in a complex series of real estate deals - ones that would divert dollars from their education. By the time they were on their first summer break, their brown brick building...had been sold three times, the final price nearly 10 times higher than the first. In the process, the company running the school - along with a small group of other players - cashed in.
Imagine Schools Inc., the nation's largest charter school operator, runs six charter schools in St. Louis. Together, their performance on state standardized exams is worse than any school district in Missouri. Nevertheless, those schools are generating millions of dollars for Imagine and a Kansas City-based real estate investment company through real estate arrangements ultimately supported with public education money.
LOUISIANA - New Orleans charter school sold stripped copper for cash (2/7/2015) -
A New Orleans charter admitted to stripping copper components from the heating and air conditioning systems to sell for cash. The charter is leasing the building from the Recovery (public) School District.
OHIO -- Charter School's Lease Deals Scrutinized (10/12/2014) -
Imagine schools charged one of their own schools 81% of state aid (tax dollars) budget just for rent in the building they owned. The charter chain is under investigation "in at least three states and Washington DC" - and one state already shut them down. See also -
OHIO - Ohio charter school companies amass tax-free real estate portfolios (9/20/2014)
MICHIGAN -- Public money for schools buys private property (12/14/2014) -
Charter chain 'sweeps' $228 million in state tax dollars into private accounts - asserts private ownership of all school property purchased with public funds. A consultant for a school reform group notes: "...This industry of real estate speculators, wheeler-dealers who use the system to make a fast buck, has grown up so fast that it's overtaken the capacity of current oversight agencies."
National/FORBES - Charter School Gravy Train Runs Express to Fat City (9/10/2013) -
An article that runs the gamut: sweetheart, no-bid deals and big donations to politicians in return for more tax money (with less oversight), generous tax credits and a quick-pass to buy immigration visas in return for charter school 'investment', and huge payouts for charter heads ($5 million/year in 2011 for the K-12 chief who gets paid based on enrollment - not performance).
FLORIDA - Charter schools making big profits for private companies (8/22/2014) -
Just one Florida company - Charter Schools USA - has spent almost $2 million (tax dollars!) lobbying the state legislature alone. Accordingly, there hasn't been much state attention to the fact that Charter Schools USA is charging it's own schools about 23% of their budget just for rent each year -- a much more lucrative scheme than just relying on the initial school management fees.
PENNSYLVANIA - Investigating Charter Schools Fraud in Philadelphia (6/27/2011) -
"19 of the 74 charter schools operating in the city are under investigation for fraud, financial mismanagement and conflicts of interest.
At one school...parents raised concerns in 2008 after school administrators told them that there was no money available for special education students....Ultimately, both the founding CEO of Philadelphia Academy Charter School and his successor were charged with stealing almost $1 million from the school's coffers...The two men also allegedly engaged in questionable real estate deals. As a result, the high school paid rent money for its facilities directly to them. "They charged really high rental rates for the school to use the building and then they accumulated money through higher interest rates", she says. "They were using taxpayer obey that was supposed to go to the school for other purposes."...
Tucson Unified's FY 2015 budget projects that Special Education services will cost just over $48 million for the year. Take away ALL special education funding + all school transportation ($13 million/year), and you'd still have to find another $4 million to cut if Mr. Hicks has his way.
Rock on, Jim Nintzel! Well deserved.
I'm researching the candidates today, and I have come across Mr. Downing's post (see above) in a few different places. While I'm giving all three candidates serious consideration, this type of sketchy campaigning really bugs me.
Here's why. Let's take a closer look at Mr. Downing's list of Orr's "Legislative Accomplishments":
1. HB 2543 – (58 out of 60 members voted YES) * (2013) Pima College Non-Resident Tuition
2. HB 2163 – (58 out of 60 AZ House members voted YES) * Commercial Space Flight
3. HB 2164 - (58 out of 60 AZ members voted YES) * Laser pointer, aircraft violation
4. HB 2166 – (60 out of 60 members voted YES) * Pima County Retirement System
5. HB 2167 – (45 out of 60 members voted YES) *Pima County Sports Authority Election
6. HB 2332 – (54 out of 60 members voted YES) Veterans Burial Provision
7. HB 2076 – (54 out of 60 members voted YES) * (2013) Military Applicants
Co-sponsor of 6 of the 7 bills listed above = VICTORIA STEELE.
I've also noted the overall membership voting record to highlight the fact that all of these 'accomplishments' could be claimed by almost the ENTIRE Arizona State House of Representatives. In other words, they were non-controversial pieces of legislation. The star (*) after each also donates bills that were co-sponsored by Rep. Victoria Steele. The rest of his list, by the way, also highlights other efforts that she supported and/or spearheaded as well.
Seriously. The guy who asked "Can someone please list his opponents accomplishments on behalf of Tucson?" actually kicked off his own post with six bills co-sponsored by the candidate he opposes. I'm guessing that he just hoped that no one would notice. I don't know about you guys, but I'm tired of certain being played by political operatives.
Huh. All along I've been under the impression that Mark Stegeman belonged to the Mark Stegeman Party.
I would love to see the talents and energy of Mr. Stegeman and the TUSD board members to be channeled more directly into the serious and complex business of building a world-class school district. There seem to be a lot of good intentions to build upon, but I wish that people would resist the temptation to keep kicking up political dust and engaging in 'us vs. them' conversations. I have yet to see where the current political sideshow has resulted in any positive, sustainable improvement for kids, teachers, or taxpayers.
When we first arrived in Arizona almost 10 years ago, we caught off guard by the state leadership's disregard for public education. The rapid defunding of our local schools since then has been shocking.
In recent national surveys, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities highlighted the fact that Arizona was #1 (again) in the nation in cuts to higher education and #3 in cuts to K-12 schools. Higher ed funding in Arizona is 48% lower this year than it was in 2008. In other words, in just the past six years our state government has cut university budgets almost in half.
With this recent series of cuts in mind, it should come as no surprise to anyone in Arizona that we also lead the nation in tuition increases. Costs to students (and parents) have risen by 80% in the same six year time period. Why? Prior to the catastrophic cuts in 2008, Arizona had already been strip-mining university funding. If you don't believe me, just try Googling "Arizona university cuts" for 2006. And 2003. Etc., etc. The universities can only cut so many positions and services before they can no longer absorb the costs. Each massive wave of cuts has also come along with an increase in student enrollment and the same inflationary price increases the rest of have seen in the last decade -- higher cooling costs, liability insurance, etc.
By 2011, the AZ Board of Regents had issued the following update to Governor Brewer's office: "The University System has eliminated more than 2,100 positions (an 11% reduction in workforce); merged, consolidated or disestablished 182 colleges, schools, programs and departments; closed eight extended campuses; delayed degree programs, and has been forced to raise tuition significantly to retain quality and program offerings." This, again, was after years of cuts and reductions that had already occurred. The response from our AZ state government? Another $200 million in university cuts for 2012.
In the meantime, the groups that have been profiting ideologically and/or financially from this trend have been spending a lot of money to distract people with stereotypical images and inflammatory messages. Forget the HUNDREDS and HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of dollars in budget cuts to our local schools and research universities...let's talk about unions! Bureaucrats! Those worn stereotypes ignore the fact that Arizona is a long-time 'Right-to-Work' state that dissolved union organizing rights; that AZ public schools have already gone through several staff reduction cycles ; and the fact that national surveys show that Arizona now has the lowest K-12 public school administrative costs in the entire U.S. Old stereotypes are much easier to repeat than factual data any day of the week.
C'mon, Arizona. The "Yes, but..." conversations need to stop. We can't continue shrugging our shoulders and saying things like "YES...our elected state officials have continued to cut hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars from our universities, BUT I feel that the Regents/U of A are to blame for the largest tuition hike in America because they have too many secretaries."
We're abdicating our responsibility as voters here, and this type of argument is a bit like spending time debating the cost of the bathroom tile while some guy is busy tearing all of the plumbing out of our house. We can undo the damage here, but our focus had better change soon.
Two words, Chuck J: Steve Yarbrough. Anyone who is still under the illusion that the voucher schemes are meant to benefit kids, families, or taxpayers need only look to Sen. Yarbrough and his years of legislative work on behalf of the "Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization" (aka his very own voucher-processing company).
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