And now, we have the IMAGINE charter school chain imagining how delicious Tennessee tax dollars taste.
Imagine charter school chain has applied with the TN Board of Education to open charter schools across the state of TN. If the un-elected, appointed-by-the-governor, TN Board of Education votes to trump locally elected school boards and allow these charter chain schools in TN, then your local communities have no say over them. How's that for local control?
You may think it will never happen to you, or that only the city folk have to worry about predatory charter schools. Think again... These districts we're about to list need to BEWARE because the Imagine charter-vultures are circling above your public schools. Imagine charter schools have applied to open in your district, which will severely impact your neighborhood schools by sucking up your tax dollars: Sullivan County, Shelby County, Nashville-Davidson, Clarksville-Montgomery, Johnson County, and Carter County.
Who would be afraid of a little bird with a whimsical name like "imagine"? Well, Momma Bears did some digging on this charter chain and found information that leaves little to the imagine-ation.
From Diane Ravitch: "Imagine is backed by a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) called Entertainment Properties, which also invests in multiplexes, real estate, and shopping malls." Interesting, so this business invests in property and real-estate. Why does that matter? Keep reading...
An interview published in the Washington Post gives more insight on the lucrative investment of charter schools. This interview is with the CEO of Entertainment Properties Trust, David Brain. He brags about the profitability and stablity of investing in charter schools.
Anchor: You’ve invested in retail centers, ski parks, you’ve got charter schools, you’ve got movie theaters.... If you could buy one thing right now, David, one type of asset in real estate, what would it be?
David Brain (CEO of Entertainment Properties Trust): Well, probably the charter school business. We said it’s our highest growth and most appealing sector right now of the portfolio. It’s the most high in demand, it’s the most recession-resistant. And a great opportunity set with 500 schools starting every year. It’s a two and a half billion dollar opportunity set in rough measure annually.
Businessmen and hedgefund investors are learning that there is much money to be made in this "opportunity." You see, charter school chains can make huge profits by renting and leasing school buildings to their own charter schools which are funded with public tax dollars.
Imagine HOT WATER
Imagine has been in hot water in many other states for fraud around their non-profit status and dismal results:
- In MISSOURI, a lease agreement allowed a local charter school to "fleece" over a million dollars in a lease scheme. The article in Salon states, “The facts of the case mirror arrangements in Ohio and other states,” the reporter noted, “where Imagine schools pay exorbitant rent to an Imagine subsidiary, SchoolHouse Finance. The high lease payments leave little money for classroom instruction and help explain the poor academic records of Imagine schools in both states.”
- Also in MISSOURI, the Missouri Dept of Education closed six Imagine charter schools for "for failing to maintain fiscal control, for being poor stewards of public resources, and for spending and too little on instruction and too much on administrative and facilities costs. The state and business community shouldered the $250,000 required to coordinate student transfers in the wake of the closures."
- In FLORIDA, Imagine charter chain makes more money in profits through rent and leases to its charter schools. Unbelievably in some cases, half of the operating dollars for some charter schools were spent on renting facilities from itself. When enrollment in these charter schools dwindled, the charter schools were left in debt to Imagine.
- From PENNSYLVANIA: Pittsburgh Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt described just how bad Imagine’s reputation is when Imagine was trying to open a school in the district: "A lot of my friends in education around the country are very supportive of the charter movement. But I have not had a single person once say to me, 'Wow! Imagine Schools.' "It's always been, 'Watch out for Imagine Schools.'"
- PREGNANCY DISCRIMINATION: Imagine found guilty of discriminating against pregnant employees, and paid $570,000 settlement.
- In OHIO: A public policy report found that, "Imagine has a poor record of performance in Ohio and a business model that includes elaborate school real estate transactions, high management and operations fees, overlapping business relationships, low spending on classroom instruction, and tight control of school finances and board relationships."
- In OHIO: High lease payments for Imagine Columbus Primary School meant not enough money for adequate student services. There was also high staff turnover blamed partly by very low teacher pay.
- In OHIO: A federal judge fined Imagine $1 million because Imagine forced a lucrative lease agreement on a charter school. U.S. District Judge Judge Nanette K. Laughrey wrote in her ruling, "This clearly constituted self-dealing." Even more revealing, the Columbus Dispatch article states, "Laughrey also had some interesting findings about how Imagine gets board members to go along with these not-so-sweet deals. Imagine recruited inexperienced school board members and one who had received political contributions from the companies and had family members working there."
What did IMAGINE do when caught?
The company's image must have been getting tarnished with all the negative press. Being a company who's motive is so blatantly profit over students must be hard to overcome. So, in 2015, Imagine converted to a non-profit organization. Did this change things? Not really. However, it did allow this charter chain to expand to states (maybe like to Tennessee) who only allow non-profit charters (as opposed to for-profit charters).
Non-profit sounds innocent enough, right? It is implied to be the opposite of for-profit. And one may even assume that non-profits are operating on shoestring budgets, their employees are earning meager paychecks, and all money is funneled back into the charity-type non-profit organization that benefits some wholesome cause, right? Oh, my, you have a lot to learn...
"Conflicts of interest, nepotism, and self-dealing can be present on a nonprofit board or a for-profit board," says Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. It is up to local school boards and authorizing boards to investigate, scritinize, and decide if these charter applications and organizations are legitimate.
The Tampa Bay Times quotes Henry Levin, a professor of economics and education at Columbia University Teachers College: "The problem is it [non-profit status] doesn't prevent self-dealing," he said. "As long as you allow them to set any salaries they want, to put anyone on the payroll that they want, to pay for services where there is some association with them or a relative, there's just no protection in this."
It doesn't take much digging to find that Imagine is rolling back and forth in dough.
Digging into the (new) Imagine non-profit charter chain's tax record shows millions of dollars being juggled back and forth through ISNP Schoolhouse Holding Company, Inc.. Here's what's really interesting: The address for both Imagine Schools and the ISNP Schoolhouse Holding Company, Inc are the same exact address! (1005 North Glebe Road Suite 610, VA 22201) Millions of dollars (see p. 29 of their tax return) flowing to a sister company located at the exact same mailing address. Does that sound like a non-profit to you? Something definitely smells fishy here.
Could this charter chain (from out-of-state and supposedly non-profit) be trying to test the marketplace in TN? Could it be spreading across the state of TN, including in rural counties with strong public schools? Is this a new, bold step in their business plan? You know... try all three grand divisions of TN and a few rural locations and see what works? Who cares if students and communities are damaged in the process as long as they are making a profit? As you can see in the bulleted list above, it certainly wouldn't be the first state they've done this to.
Aw, Tennessee, honey, you need to read the writing on the wall... He only loves you for your money. Can't you see how other states have been treated and abused? See how other states fell for the ploy and now they can't seem to get rid of this money-sucking parasite? You're not imagine-ing things! Get out of this relationship fast!