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

Thursday, August 19, 2010

WaPo Prints Correction re: Imagine; Other Updates

The WaPo ran a story on the Imagine Schools a few weeks ago and falsely claimed the company is a non-profit. 99.9% of their readers probably wouldn't think twice about this, but at least savvy reader called them out for this error. From the WaPo:
An article in the Aug. 8 Magazine about single-sex education incorrectly said the Arlington-based chain that contractually manages Imagine Southeast Public School in the District is a nonprofit. Imagine Southeast is a nonprofit, but Imagine Schools is a for-profit chain that has applied with the Internal Revenue Service for nonprofit status but has not yet been granted it.
In other Imagine news, the company withdrew their application for a new school in CA (they'll open their first school in the state this year). The Riverside County Office of Education expressed a number of concerns:

In a review of the petition, staff from the Riverside County Office of Education said they are concerned that Imagine Schools Non-Profit Inc., of Virginia, retains significant control instead of a local board. Imagine operates 74 schools in 12 states nationwide.

The corporation would hire the principal, who would report to the regional director of Imagine. The local board would not have the authority to hire or fire staff, approve or revise budgets or enter contracts, the county staff report found.

The corporation also would appoint all local board members and doesn't offer parents board seats, the report found.

The school may have difficulty obtaining federal tax-exempt status because of its close relationship with its management company, Imagine Schools Non-Profit Inc., the county report said.

Meanwhile, Imagine MASTer Academy in Fort Wayne, IN is pushing to expand into high school. They're also reporting a full school, which is good news because:
With its healthy budget, MASTer Academy may start paying off some of its debt to Imagine Schools. Huth said the school may have room in its budget to pay off the remaining $165,000 in its total $250,000 school start-up loan to Imagine Schools.
Getting out of debt would help Imagine MASTer Academy meet one of the company's six measures of excellence: economic sustainability. Meeting that goal, of course, would also put money back in the pocket of Imagine.

The other big piece of Imagine news is a letter CEO Dennis Bakke recently sent to the Desert News in response to an earlier article that appeared in their paper. Bakke writes:

Your article "Some Utah charter schools hire for-profit management" (Aug. 8) referenced a controversial internal e-mail that I wrote two years ago, in which I expressed frustration about working with some local charter boards.

I issued an apology, and I would like to unequivocally state again that I made a mistake. I mischaracterized the role of boards and the partnership between those boards and charter management organizations (CMOs).

Imagine Schools does not operate according to the expressions of that e-mail. When a board selects a full-service CMO, whether for-profit or nonprofit, it contracts with that company to handle the day-to-day operations of the school. The board oversees the CMO to ensure that the charter is fulfilled, the money is spent according to law and board-approved budget, school policies are adopted and followed, and the CMO is fulfilling his or her responsibilities. If the CMO is not performing or is mishandling money, the board can terminate the contract.

These board functions are crucial to providing the checks and balances sought by the public. Sharing the same vision, local boards partner with Imagine Schools because of the expertise, quality and programmatic variety we provide. Each governing board operates independently and transparently. The board chooses Imagine to educate children in its community. We share their commitment to operating high-quality schools of choice and embrace that accountability.

Dennis Bakke

President and CEO, Imagine Schools

Arlington, Va.

Interestingly, Bakke doesn't refute the claim that Imagine is a for-profit corporation.

The FAQ section of their website was also recently updated to clarify that Imagine does not operate for profit, their application is still under review, and they've never been denied by the IRS. The latter point, emphasized by Imagine on their website with an emphatic NEVER, may be a refutation to a point made in an earlier post about IRS confidentiality.

Things on the Imagine front will likely pick up as the school year kicks off...

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