Wednesday, September 11, 2013

ABJ Details How White Hat Operates Above the Law

Last weekend, the Akron Beacon Journal did another classic Beacon Journal story about Charter Schools by pointing out huge state loopholes for well-heeled political contributors -- loopholes that allow poor performing Charter Schools to simply re-open under new names with little change and remain open for years.

And what it does exceptionally well is explain how David Brennan -- the state's largest individual Republican campaign contributor -- kept his failing Charter Schools open. Here's an extended snippet from the story:

At one time, White Hat Management operated a Life Skills Center for high school dropouts on the northeast side of downtown Canton and a Hope Academy for grades K-8 on the southwest side.
The Hope Academy failed academically and had to close in the spring of 2010.
What transpired over the next few years was reconstructed by the Beacon Journal by tracking school incorporation papers, funding, street addresses and “IRNs,” which are the unique identification numbers the state applies to each school so that it can track enrollment, academic performance and funding.
When Hope Academy on Garfield Avenue Southwest closed in the spring of 2010, department records show that its name and IRN were wiped from the books.
But the building didn’t miss a beat. A new elementary school, Brighten Heights, opened months later. The legal paperwork creating Brighten was handled by lawyers at Brennan’s law firm, Brennan, Manna & Diamond LLC of Akron.
However, while the school name was new, the IRN wasn’t: It was the same number — 142901 — used to identify Life Skills of Canton the previous year.
But the Life Skills Center on Cleveland Avenue Northeast hadn’t closed, either. Signs suggest it had been renamed Brighten Heights high school.
After the disappearance of Hope, state records show that enrollment at IRN 142901 — the old Life Skills school — surged and funding doubled from $1.5 million to $3 million in 2010-11.
What changed? For this year, IRN 142901 included elementary school children.
The next year, it changed again. IRN 142901 returned to Life Skills of Canton, and a new school called Garfield Academy with its own IRN opened in the old Hope Academy building.
After one year, Brighten Heights ceased operations.
Through three school years, the elementary building on Garfield Avenue Southwest had three different IRNs, was a failed Hope Academy, the elementary campus of Brighten Heights K-12, and then Garfield Academy.
And through it all, White Hat managed all schools, retaining more than two-thirds of the staff. Lawyers associated with Brennan created each new school and managed each name change. School board members for Hope, Life Skills, Brighten and Garfield appear to have never changed.
Even more disturbing is White Hat's utter contempt for accountability.
Charter schools are nonprofit organizations that receive public money, are audited by the state and are expected to comply with state public records and open meetings laws.
However, the Beacon Journal was unsuccessful in gaining meaningful information from any of the Canton charter schools or White Hat.
For example, in an attempt to understand whether the board members exercised any power in the closing and opening of schools, the Beacon Journal asked a Garfield employee for board-member contact information. The employee said board information could not be given out. “You’d have to call our corporate office [White Hat] for that information,” she said.
Attempts to interview a White Hat representative for this story began on Aug. 13 and have been unsuccessful. The company would accept only written questions. A request for the names and contact information of board members was answered on Aug. 23 with a list of lawyers instead.
A search of federal tax reports and Web sites for the schools suggested five names as board members. Messages seeking comment from persons believed to be those board members have not been returned. 
Imagine if any of this had happened at a traditional public school? If you couldn't reach the school board members, or the superintendent, treasurer, business manager, or anyone else? Imagine that outrage.

Imagine if any traditional public school was graduating barely 6% of its children in four years, the way White Hat's Life Skills Centers do on average. Then imagine if all we expected for that traditional school to remain open was less than a percentage point improvement, as Life Skills Centers will be allowed to do under the state's new dropout recovery school "standards."

Again, all we heard at the beginning of the Charter School movement in Ohio was how traditional schools only gave us excuses for failure, not successfully educated children. Now, Charter School operators like White Hat won't even give excuses; they just take our hard earned tax dollars with impunity.

They don't have any time to answer questions. Because under the current system in Ohio, they don't have to.

They know they can get away with anything. Because the state lets them.

This needs to be stopped. Because it is shameful.