"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, December 29, 2008

Corruption Rampant in a Third of DC Charter Schools

A reader kindly reminded me of this piece from WaPo December 14 on the sweet deals enjoyed by the corporate charter bottom feeders inside the Beltway:

When a band of Brookland neighbors packed a public meeting to try to stop one of the District's public charter schools from moving to their quiet cul-de-sac, their pleas seemed to receive a warm reception.

Thomas A. Nida, chairman of the board that supervises one of the nation's largest charter school systems, encouraged testimony from the group on that summer evening in 2007. "And anything else you've got to say, put it in writing and we'll take it," Nida said, noting that the charter board would not decide on the move for a month. "That way we will give everybody a chance to express their views."

What Nida failed to mention was his own stake in the matter. As a senior vice president at United Bank, he had been working on a $7 million loan to the Elsie Whitlow Stokes charter school to finance the very relocation that neighbors opposed.

By the time the D.C. Public Charter School Board approved the move in August 2007 -- with Nida recusing himself from the vote -- the loan deal was done. Nida's employer would receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest payments for years to come.

Homeowners on the losing end of that dispute had encountered one of the hidden financial conflicts of interest in the city's burgeoning charter school movement. Key members of the public bodies that regulate and fund the schools have taken part in official decisions that stood to benefit themselves, their colleagues, employers and companies with whom they have business ties, The Washington Post has found.

The Post's review found conflicts of interest involving almost $200 million worth of business deals, typically real estate transactions, at more than a third of the District's 60 charter schools. The conflicts are documented in thousands of pages of internal charter board documents, land records, tax returns, audits and other records reviewed by The Post. . . .

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