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

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Imagine in New Orleans: Will They Ever Learn?

Below are some snippets from a review of an Imagine Schools application for a charter school in New Orleans.  The independent review board recommended denying the application, and for very good reasons.  In case you weren't aware, Imagine's track record is less than stellar, and the company has come under fire multiple times for issues of money and control.

Here is a summary of the Evaluation Teams' recommendations (my bolds).  You can read the full document here (Imagine's review starts on page 123):
The Evaluation Team recommends that the application be denied.

Although many aspects of the application were sound, the board did not demonstrate the capacity to effectively iplement and govern a charter school. There are potential conflicts of interest with three of five board members who are employed directly by the proposed education service provider (ESP), Imagine Schools. During the interview board members did not recognize the potential conflict of interest. The board demonstrated no due diligence in the selection process of the ESP. In the interview, it became clear that the board members did not understand the delineation between the ESP and the governing board. The board also lacked basic knowledge regarding charter school operations and the role of a governing body. Members were not able to answer questions independently instead demonstrating a heavy reliance on representatives of the management company.

The Evaluation Team had the following concerns about other aspects of the application:
- The board does not have a written policy regarding recruitment and selection.
- The application did not demonstrate knowledge of the Orleans Parish target student population or how that population might inform the educational programming.
- The budget for facility lease seemed extraordinarily high and was not supported by evidence of the basis on which it was calculated or neglected.
- The proposal lacks adequate detail regarding student data collection and procedures.
- The proposal lacks rigorous goals for annual student growth.
I don't know if Louisiana defines an education service provider the same way Florida does, but recall that the Sunshine State recently raised questions about whether or not Imagine is, in fact, an education service provider.

Continuing on:
The application provided few specifics on how the school will identify and serve students with exceptionalities. Nor did the plan adequately address services for LEP/ELL students. The services described for homeless students were more appropriate for special education students with behavioral problems.

There was no evidence of parental involvement in development of the School Improvement Plan.
The governance structure and capacity is both inadequate and concerning. Three of five proposed board members are related to employees of Imagine Schools, the proposed service provider. Thus a majority of the board has fundamental conflicts of interest with their fiduciary duty to oversee the management agreement and hold Imagine Schools accountable for performance. There was no evidence regarding the criteria that the board hasd used in selecting Imagine Schools as a service provider or that it had conducted due diligence. During the capacity interview, the proposed Board President stated, "Imagine represents us and we represent Imagine." This statement illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the governing board-service provider relationship.

The board lacked basic knowledge regarding charter school operations, and the plan was ambiguous about basic lines of authority.
The startup budget was included within the narrative section of the proposal on page 84 but only included expenses, not revenues, for $250,000. The funds for startup will be advanced by Imagine Schools for all startup activities. The applicants did not provide evidence to support the assumptions that the projected average salary of $35,000 for teachers would be competitive. (Reference Line 22 and 25)

The estimated lease amount for the proposed facility seemed to be very high when compared with current charter school facilities in New Orleans. The applicant did not provide evidence to suport their cost assumptions. The facility or building site has not yet been identified. (Reference Line 197)

The $5,000 limit for dual check signers seemed high. When asked about this in the interview, the ESP representative referenced stringent financial controls. (Reference Line 197)

The budget includes "loss mitigation" costs to Imagine of $43,776 to $93,550 per year for advanced funds plus interest that should not be necessary if the service provider provides effective support to the school in creating sound budgets and cash flow plans. In other words, in the event that Imagine fails to manage cash flow effectively, it stands to profit by providing the school an open line of credit. (Reference p.73, Line 197)
Unbelievable.  Truly unbelievable.

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