by Palm Beach Post Editorial Staff
December 6, 2016
There’s a popular narrative among some charter school proponents that the Palm Beach County School District “hates” charters. That the district, because it’s afraid of competition, will do anything to keep new charter schools from opening in the county.
It’s a foolish and counterproductive narrative. It’s also patently false.
For several years now, the record shows that the School District — under the past four superintendents — has been lenient with low-performing charters. Arguably too lenient, when you consider that it is taxpayer dollars that finance these privately run operations.
The latest case in point: Eagle Arts Academy.
The Wellington charter has been problem-plagued almost since its 2014 opening, as reported time and again by The Post’s Andrew Marra. The School District is once again weighing whether to close the D-rated school.
As jarring as that would be for the faithful parents and students of Eagle Arts, no fair-minded observer would blame district officials for shutting it down. The roughly 780-student school, one of the largest charters in the county, has become a poster child for alleged self-dealing and dubious accountability.
Eagle Arts founder, and now Executive Director Gregory James Blount was forced this fall to agree to repay more than $46,000 that the school steered to him in 2015 in the guise of a loan and interest repayment although he had never loaned money to the school. Blount insisted the costs were incurred while assembling an application to create the school.
Superintendent Robert Avossa disagreed, and threatened to shut the school down unless the taxpayer dollars were returned.
Understand that Avossa’s move didn’t come swiftly. As Marra reported, the School District’s probe into the questionable financial dealings at Eagle Arts dragged on for more than a year. Meanwhile, Eagle Arts was — and still is — subsisting on taxpayer dollars.
This is not new. The district, with some 21,000 students in 52 charters this academic year, has allowed several troubled charters — IGeneration Empowerment Academy, Excel Leadership Academy, Florida International Language Academy — to continue operating as they struggled to right themselves. That’s because the majority of local charters are run well and fill a niche that helps the School District offer more choice to its 188,000-student population.
The Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott would be wise to keep that in mind as they look at expanding charter schools and private school vouchers in the next legislative session. They’re understandably bolstered by the appointment of a school-choice advocate as U.S. education secretary by President-elect Donald Trump and a new Florida House speaker who feels the same.
But Eagle Arts should provide a cautionary tale of what can happen when accountability is an afterthought. The school, already on a district-ordered improvement plan, is now reeling from losing three principals in four months. A shutdown, among other things, is being weighed because schools officials are rightly worried about the effect on students. [READ MORE]