More Florida charter schools cutting ties with target of 8 On Your Side investigation
PINELLAS COUNTY, FL (WFLA) – One week after an 8 on Your Side investigation uncovered $235,000 in bogus school loans, two charter schools funded with state tax dollars in Jacksonville have decided to sever ties with a for-profit management company we’ve been investigating for months because of the financial chaos it helped create in Pinellas charter schools.
The Jacksonville charter school loans by Newpoint Education Partners which are cited in a 2015 financial audit do not exist, something that caught even the treasurer of San Jose Preparatory High School and Academy by surprise after 8 on Your Side uncovered and reported it.
“I don’t know where that information came from but it’s incorrect and needs to be restated,” Jerry Jeakle said at a board meeting Thursday night.
By the time board members arrived at the San Jose charter school for a meeting Thursday it was clear they planned to dump Newpoint.
“It’s in the best interest of our school and our students, our staff, our community,” said San Jose Charter School Board Chairman Bonnie Arnold. She refused to elaborate.
At the last San Jose board meeting May 26, Arnold was an enthusiastic supporter of Newpoint, the for-profit company that has managed the two schools since she became board chairman three years ago. Arnold’s support was unwavering in May even after she learned that an Escambia County Grand Jury had indicted Newpoint for grand theft, money laundering and aggravated white collar crimes involving charter schools in Pensacola.
“They are doing an excellent job with us and we are proud of that,” Arnold said after the May 26 board meeting.
Four charter schools in Pinellas County recently decided to sever ties with Newpoint after the company abandoned three of them amid financial chaos and mounting debt. Those troubles resulted in the imminent threat of closure by the Pinellas School District.
An 8 on Your Side investigation uncovered $1.8 million in bogus promissory notes that Newpoint claimed those Pinellas schools owed the company. Those loans—just like the loans in Jacksonville—turned out to be non-existent. Newpoint eventually agreed to part ways with the Pinellas schools and to “forgive” all of that “debt” owed by the charter schools.
Two of those Pinellas schools, Windsor Prep and Middle School Academy are currently negotiating with the Pinellas School District for a county takeover that would turn their charter schools into magnet programs in order to avoid closure.
The San Jose schools located on the outskirts of Jacksonville are the only two charter schools left in Florida still managed by Newpoint, the Florida subsidiary of an Ohio-based charter school conglomerate known as Cambridge that at one time or another has operated charter schools in six Florida counties including Pinellas, Hillsborough, Broward, Bay, Escambia and Duval.
Thursday night, the San Jose charter schools’ attorney outlined an exit proposal he’s been privately negotiating with Newpoint at least since Monday. Gary Wheeler insists the decision to terminate Newpoint’s contract was an extension of San Jose’s previous board meeting directive for him to investigate a “Plan B” in light of Newpoint’s grand jury indictment in Escambia.
“If you were listening to the meeting I said I wanted to provide the board with options,” Wheeler said.
By the time that San Jose board members stepped into Thursday night’s meeting it was clear they had decided to jettison Newpoint as the school’s manager even though no such motion had been made at the previous meeting May 26. After three years of paying Newpoint an annual fee of 18 percent amounting to more than $500,000 a year in public tax dollars paid to Newpoint, the San Jose charter board wants to end its five-year contract with the controversial company.
No one on Newpoint’s board would explain how, when or why the board unanimously decided to dump Newpoint or whether that question had been privately discussed by board members out of the Sunshine between public meetings.
“I don’t answer questions like that, sir,” said Jeakle.