I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Big LEAPing

Here's the latest on the LEAP charter school tax screw up:
Camden Pride Charter School, part of the trio of charter schools under the Camden Charter School Network, and LEAP Academy University Charter School had their 501(c)(3) status revoked by the IRS in November 2010 and were notified about a year later of their failure to file Form 990 for three consecutive years. The schools' predicament became public a couple of weeks ago.
LEAP's urgency to restore its status is to avoid losing the tax exemption on $8.5 million in bonds. In 2003, the Delaware River Port Authority issued LEAP the special-project bonds, guaranteed by Rutgers University, for construction of its high school. Part of the compliance requirements for the bonds is that after their issuance, the tax-exempt organization must remain a qualified 501(c)(3).
Camden Pride is attempting to get clarity from the IRS and have a good record with its donors, said cofounder Joseph Conway.
He said he had received conflicting information from the IRS about the filings required for its three schools.
"We don't get the same answer twice," he said Wednesday.
Did he ever speak to anyone at the NJDOE? Did they ever try to get clarity from the IRS? All it would have taken would have been one letter saying: "You don't have to file as a non-profit," and this entire thing would have gone away.

It's amazing to me that LEAP had its status revoked in 2010, but their problems are coming to light only now - especially since Education Commissioner Chris Cerf attended the opening of their new STEM building this past fall:

There's Cerf right next to LEAP founder Gloria Bonilla-Santigo, who is now accused by a former employee of using LEAP staff for her personal benefit.

Where have Cerf and the NJDOE been all this time? How could they have let these problems fester at LEAP while publicly supporting the school? Where is Chris Cerf's accountability in all this?

Or was that not an issue, because LEAP's anti-union, pro-merit pay history makes them a favored charter in the NJDOE's eyes? It certainly seems as if LEAP thinks NJDOE is going to overlook its troubles:
Despite the unresolved 501(c)(3) status, LEAP Academy University Charter School has continued with its planned expansion.
In a letter received Jan. 17 by the state Department of Education, LEAP asked to increase its enrollment in anticipation of a new school near Petty's Island in Cramer Hill. There is a 21-day period for public comment before the state decides, said Department of Education spokesman Richard Vespucci.
This is LEAP's second attempt at getting the plan approved in time to open for the 2014-15 school year. The state denied the proposal in April because of the state's investigation into LEAP's mismanagement of federal Title 1 funds. The school has since repaid $136,368 it used on non-allowable expenses in 2009-10.
Oh, well, that's that, then, yes? All you have to do is pay back the money when you get caught, and everyone goes on their merry way. How lovely...

Why would LEAP want to expand anyway? Shouldn't they get their house in order first before they attempt to grow? Well, there's a clue at the end of this article from another charter operator:
TEAM Schools, a KIPP charter-school network in Newark, N.J., has a fund-raising team under its affiliated nonprofit and 501(c)(3) certified Friends of TEAM, which has attracted more than 100 donors, from foundations to local residents.
"A lot of it is front-loading for new schools," said the founder and CEO of TEAM Schools, Ryan Hill.
TEAM, which runs five charter schools in Newark, is working to develop an additional five schools in the city.
"Single charter schools," he said, "don't necessarily need to fund-raise. . . . Multi-charters definitely need to fund-raise." [emphasis mine]
Aha! See, little community-run charters like Emily Fisher and Paul Robeson just don't bring in the big donors like KIPP and Success. If you want the BIG money, you gotta think BIG!

Because it's all for the kids...

Accountability begins at home.

No comments: