the game is the game

Success Academy charter schools among first to be audited by comptroller

Armed with new legal authority to go after charter schools, Comptroller Scott Stringer said Thursday that he will probe the balance sheets of the city’s largest charter school network and three other charter schools.

Success Academy Charter Schools, the 32-schools-and-growing charter management organization, is among the schools that Stringer announced that he will audit. A state law passed in April authorized the city comptroller to audit the finances of city charter schools, which are otherwise overseen by the State University of New York and the State Education Department and are exempt from most of the regulations that govern traditional public schools.

“My office is going to make sure that taxpayer dollars are being used appropriately and that proper controls are in place to ensure that all young New Yorkers are getting the quality education they deserve,” Stringer said in a statement.

Stringer’s office will also audit the South Bronx Charter School for International Cultures and the Arts and Merrick Academy in Queens, both of which are run by the for-profit Victory Education Partners. Merrick Academy has battled with the United Federation of Teachers over the union’s organization efforts at the school. The third school to face new scrutiny is New Beginnings Charter School in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

All but one of those schools bested their local district’s averages on state exams. Only Merrick Academy’s English scores lagged behind that of its local district.

Success Academy, founded by a political rival of both Stringer and Mayor Bill de Blasio, has become the city’s most controversial charter school network and will make up the majority of Stringer’s promised audits. Back in 2005, Stringer beat then-City Council Member Eva Moskowitz in a bitterly contested race for Manhattan borough president. Moskowitz founded Success Academy Charter Schools a year later, and has since grown the network to 32 schools, which regularly post some of the highest average scores on state exams. The network will reach 50 schools over the next two years.

As the network has grown, Success Academy’s finances have faced constant scrutiny. Moskowitz earns nearly $500,000 a year, more than double that of the city schools chancellor, and critics point to the network’s extensive private fundraising as the cause of inequity and tensions between her schools and the traditional public schools with which they share buildings.

Officials for the comptroller’s office said they selected the schools because they varied in size, geography and structure, and picked Success Academy because of its size and because some of its financial information is publicly available.

In a statement, Moskowitz said she is confident that Stringer’s audit will show that the network has used its money appropriately.

“Success Academy spends less per student than district schools but has more than double their proficiency rates,” Moskowitz said in a statement.

But there is some disagreement over what, exactly, Stringer will be able to probe in his audit. A spokesperson for the comptroller was adamant that city law permits Stringer to look into anything that uses city money, which would allow him to examine school operations.

But New York City Charter Center CEO James Merriman disputed that claim, saying that only state authorizers have that power under the state’s charter law.

“Financial audits are part of a strong oversight process to ensure transparency and accountability but the Comptroller’s office does not have auditing power over charter school operations as his statement suggests,” said Merriman.

Charter schools already must hire independent auditors to probe their finances once a year. Stringer first promised additional outside scrutiny in March.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.