[This testimony was adapted to reflect the postponement of the vote once again, as announced by Chair Neff. A roll call vote was not taken, contrary to SRC rules. The resolutions were not posted online nor were they provided in hard copy at the meeting. It was never disclosed what the SRC would be voting on.]
The charter renewal resolutions for Aspira, Universal and Mastery schools were not posted before this meeting; no one has any way to know what the SRC is voting on. So it seems the SRC has an Alice in Wonderland policy: first the execution, then the trial.
Members of the SRC have admitted that they have been engaged in private negotiations with Aspira representatives for the clear purpose of making sure that Aspira Inc maintains control of Olney and Stetson. The SRC’s Charter School Office has strongly recommended non-renewal for these schools, in addition to the two Universal schools. The CSO gave over 25 reasons—academic, managerial, and financial—why the SRC should not renew these charters. The SRC, without explanation, effectively rejected the CSO report and has postponed the vote for 5 months—this after postponing the renewal process from January 2015, again without explanation.
Among the reasons cited by the CSO:
- The schools test scores at Aspira schools have plummeted;
- The graduation rate at Olney went down 23% in the first year of Aspira management;
- Special education teachers were not properly certified;
- The company operated without a properly certified Chief Financial Officer.
Attorney Kenneth Trujillo, who came to represent Aspira at the May 19 meeting, admitted that the company had mismanaged taxpayer funds by spending money designated for Olney and Stetson for its other projects. He promised that Aspira would fix this “cross-collateralization”, an apparent euphemism for “misuse of taxpayer funds”.
As the Director of the Charter School Office told the SRC in April: “We [the Charter School Office] don’t make decisions based on promises of future performance, we make decisions based on outcomes.”
As if that were not enough—that Aspira has failed the community and its students in every way possible—it has now come to light that the CEO of Aspira has been the subject of lawsuits and federal complaints for sexual harassment and for creating a hostile environment for female employees—a climate of fear, intimidation and retribution. At least four of the female Aspira employees who left there now work in administrative positions in the school district. It is not believable that no one at 440 knew what was going on at Aspira. The SRC justifies charter renewal and charter expansion by claiming that the district has adequate oversight of charters. If that is true, then the district had to know that the Aspira CEO, as stated in one of the EEOC complaints, bragged about his “conquest of teachers, students and parents”. Students.
There is only one right and moral thing for the SRC to do: vote not to renew the charter contracts with Aspira, Inc.
I would appreciate an answer to this question: Do charters get to just keep on going with no end, no matter what they do, as long as the SRC drags its feet, conducts secret negotiations, and use the fact that only 4 commissioners can vote?
[Chair Neff told Lisa after the meeting that there is no limit on postponements of charter renewals.]