As charter schools grow, so do management fees



ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - The charter school industry is growing rapidly in Florida and while the schools are funded solely by tax dollars, current law requires little accountability of how those tax dollars are spent.

And Channel 9's Lori Brown discovered a charter school company operating three Orange County schools recently tripled its management fees.

The for-profit management company, Accelerated Learning Solutions out of Nashville, Tenn., raised its fee from $1 million in 2010 to nearly $3.2 million in 2011.

And the fee is charged on top of the school’s operating expenses, Brown said.

 “It is a real problem, and it is something the public needs to be aware of,” said Orange County School Board chairman Bill Sublette. “We need our legislature to take a good, hard look at charter schools at limiting management fees."

Under current law, finding out how much in tax dollars are going to profit is impossible. ALS will not tell WFTV how much it is profiting off tax dollars, and it doesn’t have to, according to the law.

 “As our enrollment increases, so will our management fees,” said Angela Whitford-Narine, the regional director of ALS.

But while the management fee increased 200 percent, enrollment only increased 38 percent.

ALS teaches students on the verge of dropping out or who already dropped out of school. The classrooms are silent while students do their work online. And the company said part of the management fee goes to increased support staff.

“A lot of the supports that we have offered and have increased over the past couple years are going to be at our management level,” said Whitford-Narine. “We have a director of reading. We have a director of accountability. We have a director of student services and transition. We have a director of attendance services.”

At Chancery High School, the management fee went to cover facility construction and make up for operating losses from when it opened in 2008, ALS said.

And with no itemized budget, taxpayers will have to take the company's word for it.

“It concerns me as a steward of public tax dollars,” said Sublette.

State Sen. David Simmons said he will consider introducing legislation.

“I don't want a situation where our management companies for the charters are taking excessive amounts for the fees,” said Simmons.

WFTV is still waiting for ALS to provide a budget after months of requests.

The most recent graduation rate for ALS schools in Orange County was 18.5 percent. An Orange County public school serving a similar high risk population has a graduation rate of 20 percent, WFTV has learned.