Did you think that Cashing In On Kids is the only organization keeping an eye on Academica's for-profit dealings? There are at least two others. The Miami Herald (in a series also titled Cashing in on Kids) called out Academica years ago for its interlocking board structure, lucrative tax-funded real estate deals and a “leadership retreat” at a Bahamas resort. And according to a new Miami Herald article, the U.S. Department of Education also has taken an interest in the charter management corporation. And they've got a lot of questions.
The Miami Herald reports that the Education Department's Inspector General Office is currently auditing Academica "as part of a broader examination of school management companies nationwide." A preliminary report identified several apparent conflicts of interest between Academica and the charter schools it manages, some of which we've commented on ourselves:
* Transfers of money from Mater Academy, an Academica charter school, to its private support organization, Mater Academy Foundation.
* Academica managed schools that pay rent to real estate companies tied to Academica executives.
* An Academica managed school that hired the architectural firm that employs state Rep. Erik Fresen, who is also the brother-in-law of Academica's CEO, and a former lobbyist for the corporation.
As the audit report reads, "We identified four related-party transactions, two of which indicated, at a minimum, the appearance of conflicts of interest."
News of the federal audit comes as the Florida Legislature considers a bill granting more autonomy to charter school operators like Academica. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Manny Diaz, who is employed by Academica as dean of its for-profit college, Doral College. You can't make this stuff up.
Read the full Miami Herald article here. Image from flickr.