Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Policy Matters Ohio Report on Another Charter School Management Company

John Higgens at the ABJ digs into a timely Policy Matters Ohio report on Imagine Schools, a Virginia-based education management organization (EMO) that has set up an run charter schools in Ohio, including one in Akron near the old Rolling Acres Mall. Complaints from the operating boards of the schools sound very much like those of the White Hat schools currently suing their EMO.

From the executive summary of the report:
    Imagine Schools, Inc., is privately owned by Dennis Bakke, a high-profile and outspoken supporter of education vouchers and charters. In 2004, Bakke bought an existing management company, renamed it Imagine and set out to expand. Bakke is former chairman of AES Corporation, a global energy generation and distribution company and author of the popular business book Joy at Work. He made news in 2009 when an internal memo he wrote was published in news reports; in it, Bakke told Imagine managers and school leaders that Imagine-managed schools are “our schools” because the taxpayer money flowing to the schools is “our money.” He also encouraged his employees to disregard and minimize the power of appointed school boards.

    In Ohio, Imagine school board members have resigned in frustration over what they describe as corporate disregard for the governance role, mandated by law, that charter school boards are to exercise over their schools. “We finally concluded that what was desired from the administration [of the school] was for the board to be a rubber stamp rather than a governing body,” said one former board member interviewed for this study. [emphasis added.]
Higgens piece relates the report about Imagine to the situation with White Hat:
    The striking similarity between the Imagine report and the White Hat lawsuit is the power that both for-profit corporations hold over the nonprofit school boards that are their employers — at least on paper.

    ''One huge issue is how hard it is for these school boards, these governing boards, to break away from Imagine or White Hat,'' said the report's author, Piet van Lier.
Best of all is White Hat's response:'''This is not the place to argue about the politics of charter schools,' according to White Hat's statement. 'That is properly left to the legislature.' Probably true that a legislative solution would be best, but if one is proposed you can bet on a phalanx of White Hat lobbyists working to kill it.

Personally I don't think everyone involved with charter schools is out to make a buck. Some good people work for charters and occasionally good people even start them. But it's increasingly clear that the current model in many states including Ohio is allowing some EMO operators to bilk the schools and by extension the taxpayers.