Press Release - June 19, 2017
Open Meeting Law Complaints Filed Against 113 Arizona Charter Schools
The Arizona Legislature has allowed charter school board meetings to become irrelevant allowing charter companies to operate in secret (Full report is here) (Complaint submission)
Arizonans for Charter School Accountability has recently filed complaints with the Arizona Attorney General against 113 charter holders for failing to post school board information on their websites as mandated by Arizona’s Open Meeting Law.
288 charter holders out of 411 total complied with the law. Many have completely transparent board meetings and offer their parents access to information and the governing process. They are to be commended.
But 113 charters did not state where public notices are posted or supply school board meeting notices on their websites as required by Arizona’s Open Meeting Law. Some of the largest Arizona charter companies including Great Hearts, EdKey, Benjamin Franklin, Noah Webster, and Sonoran Science Charter schools failed to comply with the law. Further study revealed that 147 charters did not post notices for any board meetings in 2017 and 91 charters have no notices of any board meetings – ever.
Charter boards are not elected in Arizona - they are appointed by the charter owner. Charter school boards are only required by statue to “set the policies of the school” and can turn over all of the day-to-day operation of the school, including hiring all staff, to the charter corporate board, even if the charter is non-profit. All curriculum, personnel, and management decisions can be made in secret by the corporate board that is a private organization and is not bound by open meeting laws or public records requests. The charter school board only sets policy.
As a result, a number of charter holders seldom have school board meetings, and when they do little is discussed. For example, Basis Inc. has one school board meeting for all 20 Basis schools in the state. The BASIS April 2017 board meeting (the first meeting since August 2016) had one item on the agenda – a website accessibility policy and nothing else.
Prior to 2000, Arizona statues required charter school boards to make “operational and policy decisions” for the school. The 2000 Arizona Legislature struck the word “operational” from the law, taking all requirements for operational transparency away from public charter school boards and allowing all management decisions to be made in secret at the corporate level.
Jim Hall, founder of Arizonans for Charter School Accountability, noted, “The lack of transparency in Arizona charter schools has been carefully crafted by conservative state legislators since the initial charter legislation in 1994. Charter oversight is so lax in Arizona that 113 charter schools fail to supply school board meeting information on their websites as required by the Open Meeting Law. “
Hall continued, “Arizona charter school board meetings are so meaningless, by statute, that many charter owners don’t bother to have meetings. And many that do only discuss things like their website access policy. Charters are allowed to hide all aspects of their operations from the public in secret corporate meetings. How can they be considered public schools?”
What “serving every single student” means to BASIS ed. CEO Peter Bezanson
BASIS ed. CEO Dr. Peter Bezanson was asked by ABC 15 News on May 3, 2017 about Arizonans for Charter School Accountability’s contention that the BASIS model depends on weeding out students from 6th to 12th grade through the most advanced curriculum and extremely high grade promotion requirements in the country. (See the report at azcsa.org in Past Research).
Dr. Bezanson had this to say: “We serve every single student who applies to our schools, and are lucky enough to win the lottery to get in.” “ We are a very specific type of thing, for anyone who is willing to give it a shot, but not for every kid."
BASIS serves every student that is lucky enough to get in and lets them have a “shot” at succeeding. Those that have a “shot” are students that are able to pass 11 AP tests by the 12th grade. Only .4% of all students in the U.S. took 11 AP tests in 2014-15, let alone passed them. You have to be in the top .4% of students in the country to have a shot at graduating from BASIS Scottsdale.
So when Dr. Bezanson says that BASIS is “not for every kid” he isn’t referring to special needs children, English language learners, students without transportation to north Scottsdale, or students that are not willing to work. “Not every kid” means any student that cannot pass high school algebra in 7th grade, or pass eight comprehensive exams, including the high school World History AP test in 8th grade, or pass at least 6 AP tests in high school.
The U.S. News and World Reports (U.S. News) used the following guideline to select BASIS Scottsdale as the best high school in the U.S.:
“…a great high school must serve all of its students well, not just those who are college bound, and that it must be able to produce measurable academic outcomes to show it is successfully educating its student body across a range of performance indicators.”
I wonder if any of the parents of the 44 graduating seniors at BASIS Scottsdale believed their child was not college bound when they enrolled them in 6th grade. There were 125 sixth grade students in 2008-9 at BASIS Scottsdale. The 81 students that didn’t graduate in 2015 had their “shot”. Instead of “successfully educating its students across a broad range of indicators”, BASIS failed to educate 65% of the class of 2015.
This is what Dr. Bezanson believes is serving all students well. Give them a “shot” and let them fail if they are not the best and the brightest students in the country.
BASIS Scottsdale is not a model public school…it is a high stakes game. Anyone can play and, if you are lucky, you win the lottery to the join the game. But the game is rigged - only the best and brightest students in the U.S. have a chance of winning.
BASIS Scottsdale operates the most difficult and advanced school for the extremely gifted in the U.S. , perhaps in the world. Let’s just call it that. It is far removed from anything resembling a public school. U.S. News should be ashamed to rank a school with so little regard for educating all its students well.
Again, you be the judge. Is BASIS Scottsdale the best public high school in the U.S.?
Arizona charter school capital funding increased 15% while districts declined by 85% between 2009 and 2017. It is not accidental.
State legislator Eddie Farnsworth (R) owns the Benjamin Franklin chain of charter schools and his company, LBE Investments has built four beautiful campuses in the East Valley, and then leases them back to his schools. (see the report at azcsa.org). Fancy brand new charter school buildings are sprouting up all across the valley.
Last year Glendale Elementary District had to close two elementary schools when the district found structural deficiencies that could pose safety risks for students and teachers. Glendale’s budget does not have sufficient funds for routine building maintenance, let alone money to make major repairs. There is no money for computers, textbooks, or buses either.
Arizona’s reduction in funding for capital expenses since 2009 has created a world of haves and have nots and public districts have ended up on the losing end - for the benefit of “school choice”.
The Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest filed a suit on behalf education groups, three districts and parents on May 1, 2017 over cuts of up to 2 billion dollars in capital funding for public districts since 2009. All public school districts, not just Glendale Elementary, are unable to afford major capital purchases like computers or buses - they do not have the funds to replace broken air conditioners or maintain school buses. You do not hear these complaints from Arizona’s charter schools.
The reason is simple: Beginning in 2009, the Arizona Legislature has cut district capital funding by 85% and has increased charter school additional assistance funds ,meant to cover the costs of capital purchases and facilities, by 15%. Representative Farnsworth and other charter owners are reaping the bonanza created by the Republican’s myopic fascination with school choice that is systematically destroying public education in Arizona.
Public districts received about $450/pupil in elementary and $490/pupil 9-12 for capital expenses in 2008. Today, districts receive about $60/pupil – a reduction of 85%. The additional assistance charter schools receive for capital purchases, on the other hand, has increase from $1474/pupil to $1700/pupil in K-8 and from $1718/pupil to $2000/pupil 9-12 between 2008 and today, a 15% increase.
School districts must pass bond issues when they are unable to make major purchases and repairs, shifting the burden to local property owners. The measures are not always successful, so districts ask for in absolute minimum to get by. Fourteen districts in Maricopa County passed bond issues to make repairs last year.
Charter schools get the funds automatically and they get substantially more than districts receive. Charter additional assistance is supposed to pay for three things – transportation, capital expenditures, and facilities costs.
School districts are funded for transportation based on the route miles all buses make on their regular routes, excluding field trips. Charter schools get a set amount, $170/pupil when charter assistance was funded in 1999. Charters receive that funding for every student in the charter school, even if the school does not provide buses and transportation. On-line charter schools that have no campus still receive transportation funds. 184 charter schools spent nothing on transportation and 287 spent less than $100/pupil in 2015.
School districts in 2014-15 spent an average of $267/pupil on capital purchases, using state capitol funds, bond money and money taken from the M&O budget. District property owners provided an average of $1034/pupil to pay for bonds used to build facilities. That is $1100 - $700-$900 less than charter schools receive.
Factoring in transportation, charter owners receive enough in additional funding to not just maintain adequate facilities; they are able to purchase prime real estate and build elaborate schools – all owned by the charter holder. Over half of all charter schools spent more on administrative and facilities costs than in the classroom in 2016. The excessive charter additional assistance makes that possible.
It is often said that Governor Ducey and the Republican legislature are subtly trying to destroy public education with vouchers and low teacher pay. Eliminating the funding for public school capital expenses – not just the classroom necessities for a 21st century education like computers and textbooks, but basic safety items like replacing old buses and faulty air conditioners, while providing funding for brand new charter facilities, is not subtle.
The lawsuit asking the state to pay for computers and textbooks for students and basic safety repairs that have not been made the last 8 years is the first step. Examining charter funding and the way corporate charter schools are able to spend vast sums on management profits and real estate is the next step – one the Governor and legislature will not make in the quest for school choice in their war on public education.
BASIS Scottsdale – The Best High School in the U.S.?
Success depends on failure at BASIS Scottsdale (Full report)
BASIS Scottsdale was named the best high school in the nation for 2017 by U.S. News and World Reports. Their statistics are very impressive - 31% minority enrollment, 92.5 % of all students were proficient on the 2014-15 AZ Merit test, and an amazing 92.3% of disadvantaged students were proficient as well. Students average passing 11 Advanced Placement Tests and BASIS Scottsdale has a 100% graduation rate.
U.S. News determined that BASIS Scottsdale was the best school in the country based on the following criteria:
“…the U.S. News comprehensive rankings methodology, which is based on these key principles: that a great high school must serve all of its students well, not just those who are college bound, and that it must be able to produce measurable academic outcomes to show it is successfully educating its student body across a range of performance indicators.”
BASIS Scottsdale does not meet the U.S. News expectations for disadvantaged students or graduation rates. The 92.3% success rate for disadvantaged students is based on less than eight “disadvantaged” black and Hispanic students attending BASIS Scottsdale, located in the fourth richest zip code in Arizona. There are no free/reduced lunch students in any BASIS school.
BASIS Scottsdale had 84% of 9th grade students in 2011-12 make it to 12th grade in 2014-15, not 100% as indicated by U.S. News. Overall, only 65% of the freshmen at the six BASIS high schools in 2011-12 became seniors in 2014-15. The attrition of students between 6th grade and 12th grade is far worse. BASIS Scottsdale had 125 students in 6th grade in 2008-09, but only 44 students (35%) of those students made it to 12th grade in 2014-15.
There are two policies at all BASIS schools that force students to drop out - the advanced curriculum and the performance benchmarks required for promotion.
BASIS claims to have one of the most accelerated programs in the world. Fifth grade students are encouraged to take high school Algebra 1. Seventh grade students are required to take biology, chemistry, and physics and must pass a comprehensive exam on high school Algebra 1 for promotion to eighth grade. In eighth grade, students are required to pass eight comprehensive exams, including passing the high school AP World History test: The requirements increase in high school where students are required to take 8 AP courses and pass at least six Advanced Placement tests to graduate. BASIS graduates average passing 11 AP tests.
According to the College Board, between 2011 and 2015 only .4% of all high school students in the U.S. even take 11 AP tests. BASIS high school students are much better than the top .4% of all U.S. students.
Jim Hall, founder of Arizonans for Charter School Accountability noted, “Public districts could be very successful if they had the strict requirements and exclusive demographics of BASIS Scottsdale. If a public district could weed out 65% of students between 6th and 12th grade - getting rid of all those troublesome average and below average students, special needs children, second language learners, and the unmotivated, it would go a long way toward achieving academic excellence. That is the BASIS model.”
Hall continued, “The truth is BASIS Scottsdale is only successful because they have no disadvantaged students and they eliminate all but the most gifted students in the country by the 12th grade. You be the judge if they represent the best public high school in the U.S.” (The full report with supporting data and sources is available at azcsa.org)
Arizonans for Charter School Accountability analysis of charter school spending in 2016 - what the Auditor General would report if they could monitor charter school spending (Full report)
Two bills were submitted this session, SB1233 and HB2443, to require the Auditor General to monitor charter school spending. Republican Education Committee Chairpersons in both chambers never allowed the bills a hearing.
This is what the Auditor General’s Office would have found if Republican lawmakers (and the Governor) cared about how precious education funds were spent in 2016:
Arizona Charter School Classroom Spending Report 2016
Part 1 - Less than half of all Arizona charters (191 out of 411) spend more in the classroom than on administration and facilities combined. These ‘efficient” charters were both large and small and represented the broad range of charter models – college prep, alternative, arts focus, etc. Many had substantial mortgages and have new, modern facilities. It is possible for charter schools to focus their budget on classroom instruction. Some of these charters, however, spend less overall because they are for-profit and the savings go to company profits.
Part 2 – The majority of Arizona Charter schools (220 out of 411) spend more money on management and facilities combined than on classroom instruction. Fifty charter schools spent more on just administration than in the classroom. Sixty-two charters spent more on their facilities than on classroom instruction. Shockingly, 29 charter schools spend more for both management and facilities individually than in the classroom. The Leona Group LLC ran nine of these schools and three were run by Imagine Inc., both large national charter management companies.
Part 3 – The Leona Group LLC operates in five states. Leona managed schools spend the least on classroom instruction of any schools in Arizona. We found that the owner of the for-profit Leona Group LLC, Bill Coats, sold 10 schools he owned in 2007 to his non-profit foundation, The American Charter Schools Foundation (ACSF), for double their market value. Coats also created management contracts that have a set fee that increases annually, regardless of the school’s revenue. Today, the 10 ACSF schools have excessive management costs and extremely large mortgages, but have declined in enrollment by 25% since 2007. The result is schools that spend less than 20% of their budget on all classroom instruction, but provided Bill Coats with a $25 million payday in 2007 while Arizona taxpayers are stuck paying the mortgages
Part 4 – Imagine Inc. operates in 11 states and D.C. For-profit Imagine Inc. manages 19 schools in Arizona for their non-profit Imagine Schools Non-Profit Inc. The Arizona Imagine schools spend $12 million more on management and facilities then in the classroom in 2016 as the result of “self-dealing”, a practice that caused a Federal judge in Missouri to fine Imagine Inc. $1 million in 2015. Imagine uses a myriad of accounting schemes to bolster profits including charging schools “loss mitigation” fees of 2% of gross revenues to cover financial losses caused by their mismanagement. 12 of the 19 Arizona Imagine schools are in financial difficulty, yet have some of the highest administration and facilities costs in the state.
Online Charter Schools Make Millions in Profits
When looking at total per pupil expenditures, we found that there were schools that spent far less per pupil total than most charter schools. These schools are operating their schools for millions less than they receive in state funds, and taking the rest as profit. The first two we looked at were Primavera Online and Pinnacle Schools MGRM:
American Virtual Academy Inc. – Primavera Online High School was the most successful non-profit charter in Arizona with assets of over $44 million. In 2015, non-profit Primavera Technical Learning Center suddenly decided to go out of the charter business and gave the school to its software vendor, the for-profit American Virtual Academy (AVA), free of charge. In 2016 , AVA hired FlipSwitch Inc. to provide the licenses for the courseware used by the school for $13 million. AVA made a clear profit of $10 million in 2016.
Damian Creamer owns all of these companies as well as the non-profit Primavera Online. Between 2009 and 2015 Creamer took over $1 million in salary as the director of the non-profit and paid his company AVA $84 million in licensing fees. As sole owner of for-profit AVA, Creamer reaped a $10 million profit plus $13 million in licensing fees from his company FlipSwitch Inc. in 2016. Creamer’s new company, SoundMinds, is now selling the software created for Primavera to online schools around the nation.
Pinnacle Education MGRM – is owned by a multi-national software company based in India, MGRM. In 2016 the 4 Pinnacle charter schools (enrollment 620), using online software created by MGRM, spent $3.4 million to run the schools and sent $3.4 million back to corporate headquarters in India as profit.
Charters Spending More on Real Estate than in the Classroom
Benjamin Franklin Charter School – is owned as a for-profit charter school by Arizona State Representative Eddie Farnsworth (R). His charter has $3 million in stockholder assets and he is the only stockholder. Benjamin Franklin Charter School is one of only 62 charter schools in Arizona that spends more on real estate than in the classroom. Benjamin Franklin Charter School(BFCS) spent $155,106 more on just their facilities than on all classroom instruction in 2016. BFCS leases its schools from LBE Investments – a for-profit real estate investment company owned by Farnsworth. Between 2013 and 2016 enrollment increased by 24% but lease payments went up 298% while classroom expenditures rose just 39% in comparison.
American Leadership Academy – The non-profit American Leadership Academy (ALA) was founded by former Utah state legislator Glenn Way in 2009. Since that time, ALA has expanded exponentially with 12 schools and over 5000 students this year and several new schools scheduled for opening in 2017-18. Glenn Way owns a company in Salt Lake City, Schoolhouse Development LLC, with two partners, Scott and Corey Brand. Schoolhouse Development LLC provides all aspects of charter school facilities development including data analysis, financing, architectural design, and construction
Instead of hiring Schoolhouse Development to assist in building their facilities, ALA turns over the entire ownership of the facilities to Schoolhouse Development and then leases the facilities back from Schoolhouse. As a result, Glenn Way and his partners become the owners of all of the property and buildings while collecting untold fees for building the schools. ALA signs its life away with each lease, pledging that all revenue coming to the school will go first to pay the mortgages on the property – Glenn Way’s mortgages.
More alarming, ALA has submitted deceptive and inaccurate information hiding the fact that Way profits tremendously on ALA real estate transactions. ALA has not reported their relationship with Glenn Way’s real estate development firm, Schoolhouse Development LLC, on the required annual audit submitted to the Charter Board and has filed incomplete and inaccurate I.R.S. 990 returns in 2014 and 2015.
There are dozens more charter schools in Arizona like these.
Charter schools in Arizona do not have the same level of transparency as public districts. Without transparency, there is no way of knowing how public funds are being expended. If we won’t monitor the spending of “public” charter schools, how will we ever account for voucher funds given to individuals or private organizations?
Research Summary - full report All reports can be found in the Past Research tab.
Director Glenn Way Diverts American Leadership Academy Properties To His Private Ownership – and Hides the Fact from the State and the I.R.S. (Full Report)
Arizonans for Charter School Accountability
The non-profit American Leadership Academy (ALA) was founded by former Utah state legislator Glenn Way in 2009. Since that time, ALA has expanded exponentially with 12 schools and over 5000 students this year and several new schools scheduled for opening in 2017-18. ALA only owns two of the campuses, Mesa ALA and San Tan Valley ALA, because they were financed with bonds that can only be obtained by non-profit charter schools. The rest of the schools are either directly owned by Way and his associates or leased by Way and then rented back to ALA.
More alarming, ALA has submitted deceptive and inaccurate information hiding the fact that Way profits tremendously on ALA real estate transactions. ALA has not reported their relationship with Glenn Way’s real estate development firm, Schoolhouse Development LLC, on reports required by the State - the annual financial report and their annual audit and has filed incomplete and inaccurate I.R.S. 990 returns in 2014 and 2015.
Glenn Way owns a company in Salt Lake City, Schoolhouse Development LLC, with two partners, Scott and Corey Brand. Schoolhouse Development LLC provides all aspects of charter school facilities development including data analysis, financing, architectural design, and construction. They have completed over 20 charter construction projects, including five ALA schools.
Instead of hiring Schoolhouse Development to assist in building their facilities, ALA turns over the entire ownership of the facilities to Schoolhouse Development and then leases the facilities back from Schoolhouse. As a result, Glenn Way and his partners become the owners of all of the property and buildings while collecting untold fees for building the schools. ALA signs its life away with each lease, pledging that all revenue coming to the school will go first to pay the mortgage on the property – Glenn Way’s mortgage.
ALA recently was in the news because the City of Gilbert allowed ALA to build a school on 42 acres near Loop 202 and Higley Road after discouraging Higley Unified School District from building a school there last year.
How Glenn Way will profit from the new ALA school on Higley and Loop 202
Step 1. Glenn Way and his partners formed a new for-profit real estate company, Schoolhouse Higley LLC. (SHH).
Step 2. The new company, Schoolhouse Higley, then secured a construction loan for $36 million from a mortgage trust in Canada, Romspen Mortgage Limited Partnership:
Step 3. Schoolhouse Higley qualified for the $36 million loan by signing a subordination agreement with ALA. ALA agreed to lease the property from Schoolhouse Higley and pledged that all rent will go toward the mortgage. This gives the lender a guarantee that all of the state revenue collected by ALA will go to paying the mortgage before any other expenses are paid.
The Result? Glenn Way and his partners in Salt Lake have access to $36 million to build a school for ALA and can pay themselves an unknown amount for development fees, planning, and construction. Since ALA has a waiver from the Arizona Charter Board from following Arizona procurement laws, there are no open bids and no records of how much was spent for the purchase price of the 42 acres, the construction contract, or fees to Glenn Way and his associates. When the school is completed, Way and the Brand brothers will own 42 acres and a $30+ million facility. The non-profit ALA will own …zip, but will have a huge lease payments to support Glenn Way’s mortgage. Lease payments paid for by Arizona taxpayers.
This type of self-dealing between a for-profit company and a non-profit charter school that have common ownership allows complete secrecy because the operations of the for-profit company are not privy to public scrutiny. Never the less, non-profit 501(3)(C) charter schools must at least report these “related party” transactions. ALA completely fails to do so:
ALA’s failure to report related party transactions:
1. ALA annual audits
ALA reported renting buildings and property on all audits between 2012 -2016. Rent increased from $1,162,928 in 2012 to $7,880,357 in 2016. ALA never acknowledges that it is paying rent to ALA Director Glenn Way’s company.
2. Incomplete and inaccurate I.R.S. 990 returns
Most disturbing is the failure of ALA to disclose required information on their annual IRS 990 return. ALA answered “No” to this question on their 2014-15 return, even though they pay mortgages owned by their Director.
Was the organization a party to a business transaction with one of the following parties? (see Schedule L, Part IV instructions for applicable filing thresholds, conditions, and exceptions)
A formal complaint is being filed with the IRS regarding this deliberate omission and the false reporting of related party transactions.
Four ALA campuses are the private assets of Glenn Way and his associates. Mr. Way profits immensely by providing the financing, planning, and construction of ALA schools and then retains the property and buildings as personal assets, not assets of the non-profit charter he directs.
ALA takes every opportunity to hide their business relationship with their Director and have been successful at doing so because of the complete lack of supervision and oversight at both the State and Federal level. Apparently no one at the Arizona Department of Education, the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, or even the Internal Revenue Service checks to make sure reports are completed properly, let alone monitors them for compliance.
We hope that will soon change.
Response to BASIS CEO Peter Benanzon's commentary in the Capitol Times 4/6/2017
BASIS CEO Peter Benanzon misinterpreted two studies conducted by Arizonans for Charter School Accountability in his op-ed piece What BASIS offers: A passport to 20,000 futures published on April 6, 2017.
First, Mr. Benanzon claimed that there is confusion about what constitutes administrative spending. The Auditor General gives charters and districts the same specific guidelines regarding categories where spending is to be recorded on the annual financial report. No school in Arizona, including BASIS, counts building maintenance and operations as an administrative expense, as Mr. Benanzon suggests.
The 2015 study on administrative spending, co-authored with the Grand Canyon Institute, clearly demonstrates that BASIS Schools had some of the highest administrative expenses in the state. The study compared the total administrative spending reported by all districts and charters and found that seven of the thirteen BASIS Schools spent in excess of $1.5 million each for general, school, and central administration. In Arizona salaries, that’s the equivalent of 10 principals, 5 business managers, 10 administrative assistants, and a truckload of copy paper. For each school.
The 2016 Charter Classroom Spending Report examined charter spending for instruction, administration, and facilities – using the same methodology as the 2015 study. While BASIS was not specifically examined, it is clear from the 2016 Report that BASIS, faced with losses totaling over $13 million in 2015, drastically cut administrative spending in 2016 – shaving $5.3 million from general administration expenses alone.
The two studies makes two things very clear. First, BASIS had extremely high administrative expenditures in 2015. More importantly, BASIS Schools ran just fine in 2016 with over $5 million less in management costs – additional funds that in 2015 went to profit, executive salaries, and expansion to for-profit BASIS ed.
Even with reducing general administrative costs by $5 million, BASIS recorded a total net loss in assets of $22.9 million by the end of 2016. Despite Mr. Benanzon’s assertions, losing million of dollars over four consecutive years is not great management, even in the charter world.
All BASIS Annual Financial Reports are available at http://www.ade.az.gov/Budget/EntitySelection.asp
All BASIS Audits are available at :
Release Contact Jim Hall Arizonans for Charter School Accountability
April 4, 2017
Arizona Representative Eddie Farnsworth (R) Has Made Millions Owning Charter Schools that Spend More on Their Buildings than in the Classroom
Farnsworth’s Benjamin Franklin Charter Schools are being investigated for Open Meeting Law violations (Full Report. Links to data are in "Past Research")
Phoenix: Eddie Farnsworth has represented District 12 in the Arizona House of Representatives from 2000 -2008 and was re-elected 2012 - present. Representative Farnsworth founded one of the first charter schools in Arizona in 1996 – the for-profit Benjamin Franklin Charter School LTD (BFCS). There are now four BFCS schools in the East Valley with a K-12 enrollment of 2950 students.
It is unclear how much Representative Farnsworth makes each year owning BFCS, but he controls millions of dollars in stockholders assets and real estate. Benjamin Franklin Charter Schools is also being investigated by the Attorney General’s Office for open meeting law violations.
It is difficult to ascertain how much Representative Farnsworth profits from his sole ownership of BFCS because for-profit corporations do not have to reveal salary information. We do know that Representative Farnsworth is a multi-millionaire – BFCS has over $3 million in stockholder equity and Farnsworth is the only stockholder. BFCD also has assets of $6.7 million in cash and another $35 million in real estate holdings.
Benjamin Franklin Charter School is one of only 63 charter schools in Arizona that spends more on real estate than in the classroom. One hundred and ninety charter holders out of 411 charters in Arizona spent more on classroom instruction than on administration and facilities combined in 2016. Benjamin Franklin Charter School is not one of these, spending $155,106 more on just their facilities than on all classroom instruction in 2016.
In 2014 Representative Farnsworth made a major real estate investment that has created huge lease payments to his subsidiary, LBE Investments. Facilities costs for BFCS have increased much more than the additional revenue generated by growing enrollment. Between 2013 and 2016 enrollment increased by 24% but lease payments went up 298% and overall facilities costs increased 88%. Classroom expenditures rose just 39% in comparison. BFCS has been forced to spend a large part of their budget to pay for the mortgages on the new schools.
By law, all charter schools must follow Arizona open meeting laws. There is nothing on the BFCS website, or any of the schools sites, that gives any information about the board, where and when meetings are held, or any future meeting notices. The district and school calendar do not list any board meetings for the year.
Arizonans for Charter School Accountability filed an Open Meeting Law complaint with the Arizona Ombudsman Office on April 3, 2017. We were notified on April 4, 2017 that the Ombudsman is investigating the complaint.
Jim Hall, founder of Arizonans for Charter School Accountability, stated. “We went to great lengths to document the lack of board presence at Benjamin Franklin Charter Schools because public participation is a key element of all public schools. Washington State’s Supreme Court outlawed charter schools because they do not have schools boards elected by the public so they may not receive public funds. Representative Farnsworth’s charter school website fails to acknowledge they even have a school board.”
He continued, “It does not seem appropriate for a school to spend more on its buildings than on classroom instruction - all teacher salaries, benefits and classroom supplies. If Arizona had greater transparency for charter finances we would know exactly how much Representative Farnsworth profits from his charter ownership. All we know for sure is that it is millions of dollars and that taxpayers are paying his mortgages.”
The full report is at azcsa.org
BASIS Schools Fall On Hard Times (Full Report with links)
As the BASIS empire has grown, so have the management fees paid to BASIS Educational Group Inc. (BASIS ed.) owned by Michael Block. BASIS ed. describes management fees as “…upper management salaries and related benefits, technology support, accounting, student enrollment and reporting, and new school development services.” (2015 BASIS Consolidated Audit, p. 18)
Between 2012 and 2015 BASIS ed. administrative costs were some of the highest in Arizona, taking in over one third as much in management fees as in all school salaries and benefits.
In a 2015 study by the Grand Canyon Institute and Arizonans for Charter School Accountability, BASIS schools spent an average of $2291/pupil on administration in while the average public district spent just $628/pupil. There were seven BASIS schools out of thirteen that had administration costs of over $1.5 million – each with enrollments of about 750 students.
BASIS General Administrative costs alone amounted to nearly $12 million for 8,730 students, while the six largest public school districts combined served a quarter million students for less than $10 million in General Administrative costs.
This lavish spending on upper administrative salaries, rapid Arizona expansion, and building the national BASIS brand came to an end last year when BASIS ed. dramatically reduced management fees to only 19.5% of school salaries, compared to 35.2% the previous year. If BASIS had reduced management fees in 2015 to the lower 2016 level, BASIS Schools would have saved $7 million - $7 million in profits that went to Michael Block.
Why did Brock take such a hit? Exorbitant management fees and rising debt for new facilities left BASIS Schools with a $13.2 million deficit in net assets in 2015. Even with the drastic reduction in management fees in 2016, the total BASIS deficit soared to $22.9 million in 2016.
The BASIS school in Washington DC has over $1 million in net assets and the Texas schools are in the black $2.5 million. The Arizona BASIS schools, however, show a deficit of over $26 million last year.
The Arizona State Board for Charter Schools has sited BASIS for not meeting financial expectations in 2014 and 2015.
Lavish facilities and huge profits have greatly benefited the bottom line of BASIS ed. (and Michael Brock) but have left non-profit BASIS Schools in trouble with the Charter Board.
BASIS parents gave BASIS Schools over $11 million in extra curricular fees and contributions last year. They should be outraged.
News Release Contact Jim Hall
Arizonans for Charter School Accountability
March 6, 2017
The Consequences of Unregulated Charter Schools:
Multi-National Corporation Based in India Collects as Much in Profit as They Spend Operating Four Arizona Charter Schools
Pinnacle Education MGRM made $3.5 million profit from $6.9 million in tax revenues in 2016 – with only 620 students (Full Report)
Pinnacle Education MGRM is a wholly owned subsidiary of the multi-national software corporation WGRM based in India and owned by KVR Murthy. Pinnacle Education spent a total of $3,486,391 for expenses and made $3,474,271 in profit by owning and operating four charter schools in Arizona with a total enrollment of 620 students. All of these profits came from the Arizona general fund.
Arizona’s on-line charter schools have few expenses for facilities, teachers, and support staff. There is no transportation, cafeterias, nurses, librarians, music teachers, or art teachers. Online schools operate with a minimum number of teachers that are available to assist students as they navigate the computer instruction, often by email and telephone.
Online charter schools are funded at a much higher level than public districts. Arizona’s on-line schools receive 95% of the revenue per full-time student of a regular charter school plus the additional charter add-on of $1700-$2000/pupil that public districts do not receive. Pinnacle Education MGRM receives substantially more revenue from the State of Arizona than any public district, while providing a fraction of the programs every comprehensive public district must provide. On-line charter schools are ridiculously over-funded – to the point that Pinnacle Education MGRM can operate with half of the funds they receive, and reap the other half as profit.
Jim Hall, founder of Arizonans for Charter School Accountability noted, “If the Arizona Auditor General were to release an annual report documenting the expenditures of charter schools, people would likely sit up and take notice when it is clear that on-line charter schools make tens of millions of dollars in profit every year. But in Arizona, charter schools go largely unregulated to the point that, by law, the Auditor General cannot monitor charter schools spending. The public never finds out that there are schools like Pinnacle Education MGRM that take half of all state revenue as corporate profits.”
The full report and a report on another on-line charter school, American Virtual Academy, which made $10 million in profit in 2016, are available at azcsa.org
News Release Contact Jim Hall
Arizonans for Charter School Accountability
February 27, 2017
The Consequences of Unregulated Charter Schools:
For-Profit American Virtual Academy Nets $10 Million Profit in 2016 After Siphoning $84 Million from Non-Profit Primavera Online. (Full report)
In its first year of operation as Primavera Online High School, for-profit charter holder American Virtual Academy (AVA) made an astounding $10 million profit in 2016. American Virtual Academy was given the charter for Primavera Online by non-profit Primavera Technical Learning Center (PTLC) in 2015 without compensation.
PTLC operated Primavera Online from 2002 to 2015 and had annual revenues of over $30 million a year with accumulated total cash assets of over $44 million with no debt. PTLC was the richest non-profit charter holder in Arizona in 2015.
On May 21, 2015 the PTLC Board suddenly decided to relinquish their charter to their software supplier, American Virtual Academy. There was no money exchanged in the transaction. PTLC is now out of the charter school business and is sitting on $44 million in assets.
Both PTLC and AVA were incorporated and directed by the same man, Damian Creamer. Creamer and his family members have received over $2 million in compensation as officers of PTLC. PTLC has employed Creamer’s software company, American Virtual Academy, since 2005 – paying AVA over $84 million from 2009 -2015 just to use software created by Creamer for Primavera Online.
In 2016 Primavera Online had a record year earning over $40 million. Creamer paid his new software company, FlipSwitch Inc., $13 million for software licenses and another $2.5 million for software support. Despite these huge expenditures, AVA cleared $10 million in profit that went to the company’s only stockholder, Damian Creamer.
Jim Hall, founder of Arizonans for Charter School Accountability commented, “This is worst case of a private citizen profiting from the actions of a non-profit organization imaginable. There is a charade going on in the charter school industry, both in Arizona and around the nation, that allows charter owners like Damian Creamer to control non-profit charter schools to enrich their for-profit subsidiaries – and themselves.”
The full report is at azcsa.org
Primavera Technical Learning Center I.R.S. 990 returns 2003-2015
2009 is not available
Primavera Technical Learning Center Annual Financial Reports
Primavera Technical Learning Center Annual Audits
News Release Contact Jim Hall
Arizonans for Charter School Accountability
February 13, 2017
The Consequences of Unregulated Charter Schools:
Imagine Charter Schools “Self-Dealing” Allows $12 Million More to be Spent on Management and Real Estate than on Classroom Instruction
Imagine Inc., based in Virginia, manages 19 charter schools in Arizona and is the largest charter management company in the U.S. with 33,000 students in 11 states and D.C.
Almost half of all Arizona Charter schools are well managed and spend more money on classroom instruction than on administration and facilities combined. But Imagine schools spend most of their budgets on management and real estate through “self-dealing” – the selling of goods and services between Imagine subsidiaries to benefit Imagine Inc., not to benefit the non-profit schools they manage.
The major findings of the report are:
Jim Hall, founder of Arizonans for Charter School Accountability, said, “Imagine charter schools buy just about everything from their related management company, Imagine Inc. and are charged high fees and interest for doing so. This is called “self-dealing” and it is against I.R.S. regulations for non-profit organizations. “
Hall continued, “Through confusing and byzantine financial arrangements, Imagine Inc. milks every penny out of the 19 non-profit charter schools by basically selling to themselves at a profit. The losers in this deal are the taxpayers, and children, of Arizona.”
The report, along with the three previous reports on Charter School Classroom Spending in 2016, are available at azca.org. Follow us on Facebook.
Part 4 - Imagine Charter Schools “Self-Dealing” Allows $12 Million More to be Spent on Management and Real Estate than on Classroom Instruction
2016 Audit for Imagine Avondale Elementary
Part 1 - 191 Arizona charter schools spend most of their budgets in the classroom but the majority, 220 schools, spend more on administration and facilities than on classroom instruction (Click here to download Part 1)
Part 2 - 29 Arizona charter schools spend more on administration and more on facilities than in the classroom. The Leona Group and Imagine Inc. are the worst managed charter schools in Arizona. (Click here to download Part 2)
Part 3 - The Leona Group LLC. Reaps Millions in Real Estate Profits While Arizona Taxpayers (and Students) Foot the Bill . Part 3 Complete Report
1771 Page ACSF Loan Documents
Sun Valley High School Appraisal
Charter Annual Financial Report 2016 Spreadsheet
Arizonans for Charter School Accountability Jim Hall
Press Release email@example.com
Feburary 1, 2017 602-343-3021
The Consequences of Unregulated Charter Schools:
The Leona Group LLC Reaps Millions in Real Estate Profits While Arizona Taxpayers (and Students) Foot the Bill
Arizonans for Charter School Accountability recently released two reports on charter school classroom spending in 2016 (see links below) finding that 191 Arizona charter schools are efficiently run and spend more money in the classroom than on administration and facilities combined. A majority of charter schools, however, spend less on classroom instruction than on administration and buildings. Imagine Inc. and the Leona Group LLC manage the majority of schools spending more on administration and facilities than in the classroom.
This report focuses on the Leona Group LLC which manages 25 schools in Arizona (and over 60 schools total in five states) to try to understand why Leona Group LLC managed schools spend so little on classroom instruction. These were the key findings:
Hall continued, “ The Arizona Auditor General needs to monitor charter spending and the Arizona Board for Charter Schools needs to sanction charter schools that divert public funds to corporate profits at the expense of children in the classroom.”
Part 3 Complete Report
1771 Page ACSF Loan Documents
Sun Valley High School Appraisal
Charter Annual Financial Report 2016 Spreadsheet
Arizona Charter School Classroom Spending 2016 - Part 1 (Click here to download Part 1)
Arizona Charter School Classroom Spending 2016 - Part 2 (Click here to download Part 2)
Arizonans for Charter School Accountability Jim Hall
Press Release firstname.lastname@example.org
January 23, 2017 602-343-3021
Click here to download Arizona Charter School Classroom Spending 2016 Part 1.
Click here to download a read only copy of the 2016 Annual Financial Report charter database.)
The Consequences of Charter School Deregulation
Arizona Charter School Classroom Spending 2016 - Part 2 (Click here to download Part 2)
Part 1 of Arizona Charter School Classroom Spending 2016 (available at azcsa.org) by Arizonans for Charter School Accountability, a non-profit charter watchdog group, was released on Jan 17, 2016. The report reveals that in 2016 47% of Arizona charter schools operate efficiently - spending more money on regular and special education classroom instruction than on administration and facilities expenses combined.
The 191 charter schools that focused on classroom spending represent a broad range of charter models in Arizona. Fifty-six of the schools own their facilities and many have modern, new buildings. They exemplify many types of charter programs – alternative schools, academic/college prep charters, charters with an arts focus, and charters specializing in programs for special education students.
Part 2 of the report focuses on the remaining 221 charters that spend less on classroom instruction than on administration and facilities combined. The report finds:
Jim Hall, founder of Arizonans for Charter School Accountability, commented, “ Arizona’s complete lack of transparency regarding charter school operations has allowed charter corporations to profit by tens of millions of dollars each year – money that should be going to teacher salaries and classroom instruction. School choice shouldn’t mean that national charter management companies have free rein to reap windfall profits and build real estate empires.”
Hall continued, “ It is time for the Arizona Legislature to step up and require the Arizona Auditor General to monitor charter school spending, just like every other state in the country. Arizona’s unregulated charter schools are costing taxpayers, and Arizona’s public schools, millions of dollars every year through fraud, waste and abuse.”
Part 3 of this report will be released the week of January 30, 2017 and will provide a case study of the management fees and real estate transactions that have enriched the Leona Group at the expense of Arizona taxpayers.
Parts 1 and 2 of the report are available at azcsa.org. Follow Arizonans for Charter School Accountability on Facebook.
Press Release Arizonans for Charter School Accountability
January 17, 2017 email@example.com
(Click here to download the full report. Click here to download a read only copy of the 2016 Annual Financial Report charter database.)
The Majority of Arizona Charter Schools Spend More on Administration and Facilities Than on Classroom Instruction
A new study of Arizona charter school classroom spending by Arizonans for Charter School Accountability, a non-profit charter watchdog group, reveals that in 2016 only 191 (47%) of Arizona charter schools spent more money on regular and special education classroom instruction than on administration and facilities expenses combined.
The 191 charter schools that focused on classroom spending represent a broad range of charter models in Arizona. They average 425 students and 30 have enrollments of less than 100 students. Fifty-six of the schools own their facilities and many have modern, new buildings. They represent many types of charter programs – alternative schools, academic/college prep charters, charters with an arts focus, and charters specializing in programs for special education students.
Jim Hall, founder of Arizonans for Charter School Accountability (ACSA) commented, “ If 191 charter schools of all types and sizes can spend the bulk of their budget on classroom instruction, why then do the other 221 charter schools spend most of their funds on management and facilities? The public should have the expectation that all schools, both public districts and charters, are using tax dollars efficiently for the benefit of students. The majority Arizona charter schools do not meet this expectation. “
The ASCA study compiled all charter Annual Financial Reports for 2016 to determine how much each charter holder spent on classroom instruction, administration, and facilities. The Arizona Office of the Audit General does this for all public districts and publishes a report card for each school detailing how funds were spent. The Auditor General, by law, cannot monitor charter spending - details regarding charter spending are not collected by any state agency.
“There is an appalling lack of transparency for charter school operations in Arizona. Legislation is essential requiring the Auditor General to monitor charter school spending. Tax funds should be going to children in the classroom not to management fees, profits, and real estate purchases.” Hall said.
The complete report can be downloaded at azcsa.org
Part 2 of the report will be released the week of Jan 23, 2017 detailing the charters that spend more on administration or facilities and examines the shocking number of charters that spend more on both administration and facilities individually than in the classroom
Part 3 of the report is a case study of a charter organization that spends the less on classroom instruction than any school in Arizona.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
BASIS Scottsdale Depends on Failure for Success
ACSA released a report today, May 10, 2016, detailing how BASIS Scottsdale, the second best high school in the nation according to the 2016 U.S. News and World Report, systematically produces unsuccessful students that drop out, graduating only the thirty five affluent White and Asian students who are in the top .5% of all students in the nation. See the full report here.
Higher Administration Charges of Arizona Charter Schools Cost Taxpayers $128 Million a Year
PHOENIX- Arizonans for Charter School Accountability and the Grand Canyon Institute have released a report on the high administrative costs associated with charter schools. This report is the first time all Arizona district charter schools’ maintenance and operation expenditures have been examined.
The report, “Higher Administration Charges of Arizona Charter Schools Cost Taxpayers $128 Million a Year,” calculates on a per pupil basis that Arizona’s charter schools spent $128 million more on administrative costs during the 2014-2015 school year than traditional public schools. While every state agency, including public schools, is held accountable for use of state funds, charter schools are largely exempt.
Using a data base developed from the Annual Financial Reports submitted to the Arizona Dept. of Education, the study found school districts average $628 per pupil in administrative costs, while charters were more than double that cost at $1,403 per pupil.
“This report highlights the need for increased scrutiny of charter school spending. It also spotlights the corporations running them that have excessive administrative costs that never reach the classroom,” said Jim Hall, founder of Arizonans for Charter School Accountability.
“While Arizona's public schools are required to justify every penny, charter schools are allowed to spend taxpayer dollars with insufficient accountability. This imbalance is unacceptable and harmful to Arizona’s teachers, students and parents. It’s time we demand that charter schools operate on the same level playing field as public schools,” Hall said.
The largest corporate charter holders are among the worst offenders, while other charters do much better.
Grand Canyon Institute Research Director, Dave Wells, noted, “The results of this study are very similar to one done in Michigan in 2012. Although we should see economies of scale with school operations., both studies found that larger corporate charters that contract out to related for-profit management companies have higher, not lower, per pupil administrative costs. The seven largest companies spend $19 million more in administrative costs than if their spending matched the $1,403 per pupil average of charter schools—and it’s about 3 times what public school districts would spend for the same number of students.”
To shine a light on how and where this money is being spent, Arizonans for Charter School Accountability and the Grand Canyon Institute have three solutions to make corporate-owned charter schools more accountable to Arizona taxpayers.
1. Require charter school financial data to be collected and monitored by the Auditor General’s Office (just as they are for traditional public districts). The Arizona Board for Charter Schools should be required to use this data to investigate and sanction charter schools that misuse taxpayer dollars.
2. Charter management companies need to be transparent in reporting salaries and other financial information related to administration expenses.
3. Implement a public database that shows public districts and charter schools expenditures on administration and the classroom, so parents can make more informed choices when looking for the right school.
Arizona‘s lax laws on charter school accountability combined with these schools being privately owned makes it impossible to see how excessive administrative funds are being spent. Money that should be invested into the classroom instead is redirected to administrative costs. These recommendations would do much to put public schools and charter schools on an even playing field and make sure Arizona’s taxpayer dollars are used responsibly.
Arizonans for Charter School Accountability was founded in September 2014 by James Hall, a retired principal, most recently in the Washington Elementary School District. The Grand Canyon Institute, a centrist think tank, was founded in 2011 by community leaders former lawmakers and academics to improve the debate on important fiscal and public policy matters in Arizona.
The report can be found at http://GrandCanyonInstitute.org.
Contact us with your story at email@example.com
9 reasons BASIS is not Arizona’s model high performing public school
The first BASIS charter school was founded in Tucson in 1998 by Michael and Olga Block. The school won numerous awards and was named the top high school in the U.S. by Newsweek in 2008. There are now 14 BASIS charter schools in Arizona, Texas, and Washington D.C. This year, U.S. News and World Report named BASIS Scottsdale as the best school in Arizona and the second best school in the nation.
BASIS Schools Inc. is one of Governor Ducey's examples of a high performing charter school that public schools should emulate. We will conduct an in-depth analysis of BASIS Schools Inc. examining how they spend public funds, their corporate structure, the "most challenging" curriculum in Arizona, and the illusion of success.
Reason 1 : BASIS spends more on administration than almost all schools in Arizona
Based the 2014 Annual Financial Report filed by all schools in Arizona, BASIS Ahwatukee spends 3 times more on administration per pupil than public schools and 82% more than a charter school that out-performed several BASIS schools, Arizona Agribusiness & Equine Center South Mountain:
Mesa Unified (largest Unified) 64,532 students spends $542/pupil on administration
Washington Elem (largest Elem) 23,281 students spends $583/pupil
Tempe Elem 12,159 students spends $546/pupil
Kingman Unified 6,789 students spends $592/pupil
Coolidge Unified 3,568 students spends $719/pupi
Thatcher Unified 1,729 students spends $585/pupi
Clarksdale-Jerome 469students spends $778/pupil administration
Aguila Elem 219 students spends $530/pupil
McNary Elem 169 students spends $661/pupil
AZ Agribusiness South Mountain Charter School 380 students spends $1,025/pupil on administration
BASIS Ahwahtukee 699 students spends $1,854/pupil on administration
If BASIS Ahwatukee operated as efficiently as AZ Agribusiness, they would save $580,000 a year. If BASIS administrative costs were near the typical Arizona public school cost of $600/pupil they would save $880,000 – at just at one of their 10 schools.
Putting this into perspective, a savings of $580,000 a year for a school of 699 students would mean 13 additional teachers (at $45,000 a year). What would your local school be able to do with 13 additional teachers?
BASIS is a money making machine. But how are they able to extract so much for corporate salaries and management? The key lies in their business model that serves only the brightest students in Arizona. That’s next…
If you have information about BASIS schools you would like to share, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reason 2: BASIS is able to spend less on students than on administration because Basis students are all the same.
Creighton Elementary District is in central Phoenix. They have 6515 students and over 90% are on free or reduced lunch, the government’s definition of poverty. 84% are Hispanic and 27% of students require ELL classes to learn to speak and read English. Ten percent of students receive special education services.
Many Creighton students come to school hungry. Most live in a home where Spanish is the primary language. Every day at school is a challenge for them and for their teachers.
Creighton provides free breakfast and lunch for students. They hire reading specialists, ELL teachers, special education teachers, counselors, nurses, and social workers to try to meet the needs of their at-risk population. Additional federal funding from Title One and I.D.E.A. don’t come close to paying for these programs. The money has to come from the general funds provided by the state.
Creighton spends 62% of their general funds on students. Creighton Elementary District spends almost four times as much on instruction as they do on administration.
BASIS Ahwatukee spends 40% of their budget on students and spends a more on administration than they do on instruction and support for kids. That is because BASIS only serves gifted students.
There are no poor kids at BASIS. Basis schools are 27% Asian and 59% White. Out of 8700 students, there are no ELL students and only two schools have special education students and constitute less than one percent of the student body.
BASIS doesn’t have a lunch program. They don’t have nurses or social workers.
The extremely advanced curriculum is responsible for keeping BASIS homogeneous. Students are required to complete high school Algebra 1 by the end on seventh grade and are encouraged to take it in fifth grade. Students are held back if required high school level courses are not passed in elementary school. High school classes are all Advanced Placement courses with college level expectations and examinations.
BASIS is required to admit everyone, just like Creighton. BASIS goes to great lengths explaining of the difficulty of the curriculum and parents are required to attend pre-admission workshops that stress how rigorous the program is to discourage all but the brightest from attending. Many that enroll leave within a few months as they fail the required courses that are 2-3 years above grade level.
Creighton Elementary should perhaps change their curriculum to require all students to pass Algebra 1 in seventh grade. They could be a model school, like BASIS.
Reason # 3: BASIS schools do not have a governing Board available to the public.
I attended a BASIS Schools Inc. board meeting today; at least I tried to. BASIS has one school board governing all 13 BASIS schools around the state. So much for local control.
Board meetings are held in their corporate offices in Scottsdale and are supposedly available by phone conferencing at each of the 13 schools. The BASIS school board met seven times between February 2014 and February 2015. In those meetings they achieved the following:
- Approved 9 policy addition for select schools
- Approved school enrollment caps and grade additions
- Approved the Parent and Student Handbook
- Set fees for a program
- Approved the revised budget 2014 and the proposed budget 2015, as required by law
That’s it. No other discussion or reports of any kind the entire year. BASIS opened new schools and received million of dollars in bond financing. Not even a report from BASIS Ed. – the management company that the board supposedly hired to run the schools.
The meeting scheduled at 10:00 today had 13 agenda items – “review, discussion, and possible approval” of each of the revised 2015 budgets for the 13 schools. This is the final budget revision of the year and it shows if the schools stayed in their established budgets.
I came to Suite B 121 in a plush office building in Scottsdale at 10:04. B121 had a sign on the wall, but only B100 was there, the main office for Basis Schools Inc. I asked the receptionist for directions to B121 for the board meeting. She had no idea what I was talking about and told me B121 no longer existed. She called a co-worker that also knew nothing about a board meeting. She got on her phone and then walked by me to go upstairs. As I waited, a gentleman came in asking about the board meeting as well. Finally at 10:15 we were told that the meeting was upstairs but it only lasted ten minutes and was over. There was someone still upstairs, however, if we wanted to talk to someone. The other gentleman is a BASIS parent with a concern and went upstairs. I gave the lady my card and told her that if the board discussed, reviewed, and approved 13 budgets in ten minutes I had nothing to ask.
There obviously was no review or discussion of the schools' budgets. Non- BASIS employee board members were not present – they attended via a ten minute phone call.
I am filing an open meeting complaint with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office next week (after I read the meeting minutes, if they took them) for denying a citizen access to a public meeting and posting false information meant to mislead the public.
The BASIS schools are actually run by the Board of Directors of the non-profit corporation BASIS Schools Inc. They selected the school board to do the minimum possible while they actually run the schools. The Arizona Attorney General has ruled (100-009 R99-013) that Board of Director meetings of non-profit charter companies are not public meetings, so the public has no right to attend. Every decision made about BASIS Schools, except things like the Visitors Policy and Student Handbook, are made in secret.
Again, some perspective from real public schools. All public school governing boards are comprised of community members living in the school district. The board approves vouchers (all money paid to vendors and employee pay checks), approves all budgets, accepts donations, and hires and fires all personnel, including the superintendent. They receive reports from the superintendent, board members, district departments, schools, and students. They set policy. They are elected community members that have the final say in how the district is run.
BASIS Schools Inc. school board does none of that. They are not a governing board. Of course, they only have 10 minutes to spare.
Reason # 4 BASIS cons parents out of millions of dollars every year.
Remember these figures throughout this post:
BASIS Ahwatukee had 699 pupils last year and spent $1,296,279 on administrative costs - less than on classroom instruction, including teacher’s salaries, supplies, materials, etc. 1.3 million dollars would pay the salary of twelve principals…to run one school.
Here is what BASIS said in their 2012 non-profit 990 tax report regarding why they didn’t publish their non-discrimination policy as required:
“….we are charged by the length of the statement/column inch for solicitation printed in the newspaper or media and are constrained by our limited resources”.
This fabrication about limited resources is the manta BASIS parents face every day. Even though BASIS spends more than almost every charter school on management fees and administrative costs, they demanded fees and contributions from parents in order to provide basic services. BASIS extracted $ 3,659,875 from parents in 2012, $1.6 million on extra-curricular fees alone.
Just to apply to BASIS requires a refundable $300 fee for high school students and a $150 fee for K-8. Just to apply.
There are no pencils or paper available in BASIS schools. Parents are expected to provide all school supplies. If workbooks are used in a class, parents must pay for them. If a student signs up for any optional class or elective, parents must purchase all of the materials and supplies used in the activity – art supplies, science lab supplies, etc.
BASIS budgets no money for sports or extra-curricular activities. All extra curricular activities require a fee:
Co-ed soccer $200
Small Plays $125
Engineering Club $50
Florence Unified School District is about the same size as BASIS (8000 students). All clubs and activities are free. Major sports like basketball and football require a $100 fee. Florence spent $56,816 on extra-curricular activities and $812,989 on sports from their general operation fund. BASIS spent: zero. They passed all the costs to parents while pocketing millions of dollars in profits.
BASIS Ahwatukee paid less for teachers than they did for central and school administration costs. But here is what they tell parents in their brochure:
“As a charter school, BASIS receives less state and local funding per student than traditional schools, making it unfeasible to pay faculty much more than the average teacher salary without the help of the Annual Teacher Fund”.
The Annual Teacher Fund provides bonus incentives to teachers. Parents are repeatedly asked to contribute $1,500 to this program each year. Parents are expected to pay teacher salaries at BASIS.
The ultimate arrogance has to be the New Schools Development Fund. With missionary zeal, BASIS asks parents to help cover the costs “…associated with starting new schools, thus continuing our mission to raise the standards of American K-12 education to internationally competitive levels”.
Basis just refinanced eight of their school to the tune of $88,000,000 to expand their empire. And parents have bake sales to help cover construction costs.
BASIS parents think they are getting a private school education for free so contributing a little here and there seems appropriate. But BASIS is well funded and able to reap huge profits from Arizona taxpayers. BASIS parent contributions are icing on the cake. BASIS plays their parents for suckers.
Why BASIS charter schools are not model high performing public schools
Reason # 5: BASIS is a school for the exceptionally mathematically gifted – its curriculum far more accelerated than the best private college prep high schools in Arizona.
3.5 per cent of all graduating high school seniors in the U.S. passed Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus AB in 2010. Only 1.6 percent of Arizona seniors passed the exam that year. All BASIS students must pass Calculus AB to graduate and most due so before their senior year.
The minimum requirement for BASIS freshmen is pre-calculus and many are taking AP Calculus AB as freshman. BASIS freshman Eric Kim took the AP Calculus AB test and earned a perfect score – one of only ten in the world to do so. A junior at BASIS Scottsdale got a perfect score on the more difficult AP Calculus BC exam last year – one of only nine in the world.
BASIS seventh grade students are required to pass high school Algebra 1 to be promoted to the eighth grade. But when you look at the curriculum of the best private high schools in the state, Algebra 1 is still a freshman requirement.
Phoenix Country Day has been considered one of the best private college prep schools in Arizona for decades. Their graduates are accepted in top colleges around the world. It is the most expensive high school school in Arizona with tuition costs of $24,600 a year. As you can imagine, parents have high expectations for their children and the school.
Phoenix Country Day School’s math requirements for graduation are:
A 4th course for which Algebra II is a prerequisite.
Brophy Prep is also one of the leading private high schools in Arizona (tuition $13,900). Their math requirements are the same as Phoenix Country Day School.
BASIS students are required to pass the same classes freshmen and sophomores take in the private schools by the end of eighth grade. Many seventh and eighth grade students are taking the math classes required by seniors at the most expensive prep schools in the state.
BASIS curriculum is far more accelerated than private college prep schools in Arizona. BASIS boasts that their curriculum is one of the most accelerated in the nation. It certainly is.
So who can be successful at a BASIS school? Only the top 1% of math students in Arizona. Maybe.
Reason # 6: The BASIS model requires students in grades 5-8 to fail so only the elite continue to high school.
Between the four years 2010 -2013, 77,135 students in the U.S. took six AP exams. That is 2.3% of all high school graduates for 2013. Data is not available on how many students actually PASSED 6 exams.
BASIS requires all graduates to pass at least 6 AP exams. Less than 2% of all students in the nation can do that.
BASIS students average 9.9 AP exams passed. Six tenths of one percent of students in the U.S. take 9 exams, let alone pass them.
Bottom line. To graduate at a BASIS school, you have to be in the top 1% of students nationwide. Or better.
Let’s look at BASIS Scottsdale, the second best high school in the nation for 2015 according to U.S. News and World Report.
BASIS Scottsdale has been open since 1998. In 2010, 144 students were enrolled in fifth grade. That cohort of students decreased to 111 in 7th grade and 99 in eighth grade. In 2014, only 75 students out of the original 144 became freshmen. Last year there were on 44 seniors at BASIS Scottsdale (BASIS has an average of 33 seniors in their 7 high schools).
One hundred fifth grade students in 2010 failed at BASIS Scottsdale and transferred to other schools. About half made it to 9th grade and only 30% made it to their senior year.
There is no shortage of parents of gifted and talented students that want their children to have every possible advantage. They enroll their children at BASIS in 5th and 6th grade. But a majority of the brightest students in Arizona don’t succeed at BASIS Scottsdale.
The 99 students in eighth grade passed high school Algebra I in 7th grade to get there. When I was a junior high principal in a middle class school, we had less than a dozen 7th graders out of nearly 2000 students in a six-year period pass Algebra 1. If these very gifted students were at BASIS Scottsdale, less than half would graduate.
BASIS is not just a sorting machine. It is a failure machine by design. But they have 100% of their forty four seniors passing AP exams. They are the best school in the nation. If BASIS Scottsdale was a public school they would be shut down.
Reason 7: BASIS Scottsdale is the second best high school in the nation, according to U.S. News and World Reports. But BASIS Scottsdale does not meet the magazine’s basic scoring criteria and should not have been considered.
The ranking of the nation’s high schools and colleges by U.S News and World Reports is a big deal. It is a cornerstone of the BASIS sales pitch – proof they are the best schools in Arizona. But the folks at U.S. News apparently didn’t look at the same school we have been looking at in this series.
It is important to examine the criteria employed by U.S. News to rate American high schools. They used data from the 2012-13 school year. This is from the Technical Guide 2015:
Step 1: The first step determined whether each school's students were performing better than statistically expected for students in their state.
We started by looking at reading and math results for all students on each state's high school proficiency tests. We then factored in the percentages of economically disadvantaged students – who tend to score lower – enrolled at the schools to identify schools performing much better than statistical expectations.
BASIS Scottsdale has NO economically disadvantaged students; they don’t collect the data because they have no lunch program identifying free/reduced lunch students, the indicator for being economically disadvantaged. A great school “beats the odds” and helps disadvantaged students become successful. There is no indication that BASIS Scottsdale has any economically disadvantaged students.
Step 2: For schools passing this first step, the second step assessed whether their disadvantaged students – black, Hispanic and low-income – were outperforming disadvantaged students in the state.
BASIS Scottsdale is listed as 50% minority in the U.S. News report. Actually there were 328 Asians, 33 Hispanics, 18 Multi-race, and 358 White students enrolled in 2012-13. There were 12 Blacks the year before, but they didn’t make it. Since there are no disadvantaged students at BASIS Scottsdale, it is impossible to compare the 33 Hispanic students with disadvantaged Hispanic students in Arizona. A “beats the odds” school helps minority students become successful. This is not BASIS Scottsdale.
Step 3: Schools that made it through the first two steps became eligible to be judged nationally on the final step – college-readiness performance – using Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate test data as the benchmarks for success, depending on which program was largest at the school.
This was done by computing a College Readiness Index based on the school's AP or IB participation rate – the number of 12th-grade students in the 2012-2013 academic year who took at least one AP or IB test before or during their senior year, divided by the number of 12th-graders – and how well the students did on those tests.
BASIS Scottsdale weeded out the 140 students who enrolled in 5th grade down to 32 high school graduates in 2012-13. One hundred percent of these students passed at least six AP tests. The 32 students who made it to the 12th grade after the annual purging of inferior gifted students made BASIS Scottsdale the best school in Arizona.
And who graduated from BASIS Scottsdale in 2013? 14 Asians and 18 Whites. Black and Hispanic students comprised 49% of all Arizona students in 2012-13. Not one of them made it through BASIS Scottsdale.
BASIS Scottsdale simply is not the best high school in Arizona. Maybe it is the most racist?
Reason 8: BASIS Schools Inc. is a very lucrative business that is making millions of dollars in profit every year.
In 2009, BASIS owner Michael Block made $156,362 and his wife Olga earned $197,507 as the sole officers of BASIS Schools Inc. Olga’s daughter received $19,000 for unspecified services, and her sister was paid $53,047 for accounting services, performed from the Czech Republic. Good salaries to run two schools.
The Blocks had plans for major expansion in the coming years. Since the company is a non-profit, they had to declare the income they received (and family members received in the Czech Republic...) on the annual 990 form submitted to the IRS every year by non-profit organizations. There were big profits to be made with the BASIS model, but how could they realize these profits without having to declare them publicly?
The answer was for the Blocks to become sole owners of a new company, BASIS Ed. Inc., a for-profit charter school management company. A private, for-profit management company does not have to divulge their financial affairs to the public. They simply charge a set management fee that includes all management salaries and company profits. The public can never see what these salaries or profits are.
BASIS Schools Inc. selected a management company to run all aspects of their schools on June 25, 2009. They selected… themselves. Now the salaries and profit gained by the Blocks is buried in the management fee charged by BASIS Ed. Inc. that began as $1,767,000 in 2009-10 and increased to $7,059,200 by 2012-13.
By 2012-13, BASIS had grown from two schools to eight. Revenues grew by a factor of four, as you would expect. But their total assets grew from 13 million dollars to 122 million dollars with the addition of six campuses. State law allows all assets gained by a charter school to be retained by the charter holder, even if the charter is revoked. BASIS expanded their real estate empire by 109 million dollars in four years – with nothing down and the annual mortgage payments of $5,268,294 paid for by Arizona taxpayers.
The cash position of BASIS also improved over the four years. In 2009 they had $565,282 in cash, savings, pledges, and grants. By 2013 that had grown to $7,826,289.
The Blocks have become very rich indeed.
BASIS Parents: Would you please put a smiley face on the $1500 check you write to BASIS every year to help pay teacher salaries? The Blocks are laughing all the way to the bank.
Why BASIS charter schools are not model high performing public schools
Reason # 9: BASIS exists because of the unfunded mandates public schools must meet, and BASIS avoids. A look at the Prescott Unified School District:
Prescott Unified School District (PUSD) had 4917 students in 2014. This year enrollment dropped to 4456 students and the school board had to close an elementary school. What caused the enrollment decline? BASIS Prescott came to town.
Prescott Unified can’t compete with BASIS, and it is by the design of the Arizona State Legislature. BASIS has been given more money per pupil than Prescott Unified and has been given license to spend the money in any way they chose. And BASIS Prescott choses to accept and retain only the brightest of the bright while extracting huge profits from their school budget. Prescott Unified takes every student in Prescott. They have to. They want to. They are a public school district.
As noted in previous posts, the BASIS model is based on:
- An extremely advanced curriculum where students in 7th grade are required to complete high school algebra and high school students are required to pass at least six college advanced placement tests. Only the most gifted students can meet this standard.
- The absence of minorities, no special education students, no English Language learners, and no indication of low-income students..
- The expectation that parents pay teacher salaries by asking each family to donate $1500 each year to supplement low BASIS salaries.
- Not providing funds for extra curricular activities like clubs and sports.
BASIS Prescott served 364 students in grades 5-10 this year. They plan to become a K-12 school with a maximum enrollment of 840 in the future.
Prescott Unified School District has 4454 students in grades K-12. They serve a diverse population. There are 69 Asian, 673 Hispanic, and 111 Native American students in PUSD. There are also 475 special education students and 1539 students who receive free or reduced lunch.
Prescott Unified welcomes all students and provides programs to meet their individual needs. These programs are funded largely out of their general maintenance and operations budget:
- Special Education: The majority of the 475 special education students have specific learning disabilities. Schools receive less than $20 per pupil from the state to provide programs for SLD students. PUSD budgeted 4.5 million dollars for special education. BASIS Prescott has no special education programs.
- PUSD budgeted $13, 419 to support extra curricular activities and $266,664 for sports programs. BASIS Prescott budgeted zero.
- PUSD has hires counselors, nurses and other support staff to assist at-risk students, who are often children dealing with poverty at home. It costs PUSD over $1,000,000 a year to do this. BASIS has no counselors or nurses and they have no at-risk students. They budget nothing.
Prescott Unified has been in a budget crisis for years. Their per pupil funding has been approximately $5400 for maintenance and operations for several years. BASIS Prescott received $6981 (after mortgage payments) - $1590 per pupil more than PUSD and had to provide none of the support programs that Prescott Unified offers to serve ALL students in the Prescott community.
Where does BASIS spend the extra funds they receive from lucrative state funding and the limited programs provided? Administration, expansion, and profit.
BASIS Prescott budgeted $921,000 for administrative costs, for a school of 364 students. That’s 36% of their M&O budget and $2,531 per student.
PUSD spent 13% of their budget on administrative costs, which is only $708 per student.
PUSD budgeted $328,757 for General Administration that includes the superintendent ‘s office and district expenses. BASIS Prescott budgeted $508,085 for the same services – for a school of 364 students.
PUSD has 585 gifted students. There is no state funding to support gifted education. The gifted students are going to BASIS where 100% of their classroom budget is dedicated to gifted students. How can Prescott Unified compete with that?
And herein lies the problem. Prescott Unified is mandated to provide special education programs, ELL classes, and what ever it takes to have third grade students read at grade level. The state provides minimal, or no additional funds to pay for these mandates. Prescott Union is expected to meet the expectations of the community as well by providing quality programs and services for all students, so they hire librarians, nurses, and counselors at a cost of over $1,000,000 at year. They provide all day kindergarten when the state only pays for half-day programs. They pay for extra curricular activities and sports programs, the pride of Prescott and of many small towns in America. All of this has to come out of the maintenance and operations budget.
BASIS Prescott can devote all of its resources toward gifted education, since it effectively excludes at-risk and special education students. BASIS doesn’t have nurses or ELL classes. There is no expense assuring 3rd grade students can read – all BASIS Prescott students meet or exceed on the AIMS test. Without having to fund required programs and not worrying about the Prescott community’s wishes for nurses, counselors, all day kindergarten and sports programs, BASIS Prescott is able to divert hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to corporate profits, money that could be used to fund mandated programs in public schools like Prescott Unified.
Requiring public schools to pay for mandated programs out of the general budget while allowing charter schools complete autonomy and selective admission and retention of students has been purposely legislated in Arizona. There are winners and losers. BASIS Prescott is a winner. Public schools, like Prescott Unified are the losers. So are the children of Prescott - and the town itself.
(Data is from the revised budgets for 2014-15 submitted by BASIS Prescott and Prescott Unified School District. Since BASIS Prescott is in its first year of operation, the adopted budgets for the two schools were utilized, rather than Annual Financial Reports. Demographic data comes from the October 1 Enrollment Count Reports submitted by all public and charter schools. Information about BASIS Prescott comes from their Parent Handbook available on the BASIS website.)