|Worth 100,000 words|
Commentary by Juan Gonzalez for the Daily News:
Even in public education, the rich keep getting richer.
That's the message the trustees of the State University of New York will send Monday when they vote to approve a huge 50% increase in the per-pupil management fee of one of the city's wealthiest, biggest-spending and most controversial charter school operators.
The Success Academy Charter Schools Inc., run by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, applied in April for an increase from $1,350 to $2,000 in the annual per student payment it receives from the state to run 10 of its charter schools.
SUNY postponed the vote following a public outcry over the agency's failure to disclose any details beforehand.
Not until Friday morning did the agency finally release some documents to justify the increase.
Among them is a May 22 letter from Moskowitz that claims her network has been heavily subsidizing "shortfalls" in its management costs for years through outside donations and grants.
Those high costs have been a result, Moskowitz said, of a "quality and intensity of services that is far higher than nearly any other (charter operator) in New York City," yet she has continued to augment her services despite insufficient fees from the schools.
But with the "deficit ... increasing every year," Moskowitz says, "the current situation is simply unsustainable." In 2010-11 alone, she states, her network's "shortfall" reached $4.7 million.
This will all come as a huge surprise to anyone who has bothered to examine Success Academy's financial reports or who has witnessed firsthand its almost limitless spending .
The Success Network, in fact, is a fund-raising colossus, having received $28 million from dozens of foundations and wealthy investors the past six years, and millions more in state and federal grants.
On its annual tax forms, it has continually reported huge year-end surpluses for both itself and its individual schools. Those combined surpluses currently stand at more $23.5 million.
Hardly the picture of financial woe.
Last year alone, the network spent an astounding $883,119 on "student recruitment" - much of it for glossy flyers mailed to hundreds of thousands of parents; bus stop and Internet ads and an army of paid recruiters to go door-to-door soliciting student applications.
Even other charter schools rarely spend more than a few thousand dollars on student recruitment.
It paid $243,150 to SKD Knickerbocker, a high-powered public relations firm, to supplement its own in-house press people, and another $129,000 to a Washington consulting firm founded by President Obama's chief strategist David Axelrod.
But that wasn't all that Success Academy spent on marketing itself.
The network's first seven schools incurred an additional $912,000 "student recruitment" expenditure last year, most of it going to big advertising and branding companies.
That's comes to more than $3.4 million spent on marketing and drumming up huge numbers of application forms - in just one year.
It is perhaps the most intense campaign to sell a group of charter schools in the history of education.
"Our results prove we are spending resources effectively," Moskowitz said. "With fewer taxpayer dollars than district schools, we have an extraordinary level of student achievement, which is why we have 13,000 applicants this year."
Which, of course, ignores the fact there is no need to spend so many millions of dollars to recruit 10 times more applicants than you can possibly handle.
As for the Success Academy's "extraordinary level of student achievement," that will be the subject of a future column.
For now, despite efforts from parent groups led by New York Communities for Change, SUNY's bureaucrats seems poised to give Moskowitz exactly what she wants - a big fee increase to overcome her "unsustainable shortfall."
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