Accountability Charter Schools Education Industry For-Profit New Jersey Privatization

New Jersey Expose, Part 2: Millions of Taxpayer Dollars Spent on a Floundering Charter School

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Northjersey.com and USA Today New Jersey are posting a five-part series about how taxpayers are being taken for a ride by the charter industry. 

Part 2 is about the millions of state dollars spent to bailout a low-performing charter school.

Reporters Jean Rimbach and Abbott Koloff write:

“By 2010, four years after it opened, the Central Jersey Arts Charter School in Plainfield was in trouble.

“The state had just put it on probation for a host of deficiencies, ordering it to limit spending, develop a curriculum and address problems with its board and student achievement.

“Yet little more than three weeks later, a state agency voted to issue bonds that allowed a fledgling nonprofit called the Friends of Central Jersey Arts Charter School to borrow $8.2 million to buy and renovate a building for the school to rent and, one day, potentially own.

“It was a loan whose repayment was based on the tax dollars flowing to the public charter school.

“The Friends quickly ran out of cash, and about six months later approached a different state agency seeking millions of dollars in additional financing to finish the project without explaining why they had come up short. The next year, another $1.7 million in bonds were issued, this time with the federal government picking up most of the interest.

“While the Friends were permitted to borrow nearly $10 million, the school itself was floundering. A financial report covering the 2010-11 school year stated that Central Jersey Arts was “not in good financial condition” and raised “substantial doubt” about its survival.

“The building opened with fanfare as contractors went unpaid. The next year, the school was back on probation, where it stayed until the state shut it down in 2015 for weak finances and “dismal” academic performance — but not before dumping more taxpayer cash into a now-defunct for-profit management company in the hope of turning it around.

“This is the story of a charter school that failed, and a building that used up millions in public dollars and continued to receive federal aid long after it was left vacant. It’s a story about dubious decisions by multiple state agencies, one that raises questions about the use of public money and the oversight of private groups that own real estate for public charter schools.”

The school “churned through teachers and business administrators at an alarming rate…At one point, a janitor was doing the books.”

It became difficult to know whether to attribute the school’s failure to fraud, theft, or incompetence.

Ultimately, the public money was lost and the education of hundreds of students was squandered.

In this brilliant article, the wisest comment came from a woman who had served as Board president for a time. She said, “You know, the bottom line is greed should not supersede education.”

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