Saturday, November 26, 2005

Article: More Tax Dollars For Failed Charter School Leader

Greater Cincinnati Community Academy Exposed by Channel 12 (Cincinnati)-or,shall we say,caveat emptor


Homework is a lot tougher for 11-year-old Kendall these days. He's in a new school, more demanding than where he used to go. Greater Cincinnati Community Academy is one of Ohio's 250 publicly financed, but privately operated charter schools. GCCA closed in June.

Local 12 did an investigation of GCCA three years ago. We found financial problems. GCCA secretly kept employee retirement money, and also overbilled the state nearly $1 million for handicapped students the school could not actually document.

We also found ethical problems. GCCA Superintendent Marie Congo hired friends and relatives for big salaries. Her husband, Arthur, made $77,922 dollars a year. Congo's former business partner, Janet Perry, who had been fired by the Cincinnati Public Schools for gross inefficiency as a teacher, was making $87,000.

We also found academic problems. When GCCA was given its charter by the state of Ohio, the school promised, in a contract, to raise student performance. GCCA failed miserably, some scores even went down to single digit passing rates.

GCCA did pay back the money it owed the state and its employees, but problems continued. Enrollment plummeted, and after getting $17 million worth of taxpayer dollars, GCCA was history.

While Greater Cincinnati Community Academy may have closed its doors in Cincinnati, the school is far from dead. It has merely moved 100 miles or so to Columbus.

The school has a brand new sponsor and a brand new name, the George Washington Carver Preparatory Academy. However, the same person, Marie Congo, is in charge.

Critics are outraged.

"For us to allow a con artist from Cincinnati, when they're finally exposed, to go a couple of hours up the road, a couple of seconds by e-mail, to set up the same con, shame on us," said Tom Mooney, President of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.

However, the organization inviting GCCA up the highway says it's a wise move, and despite the school's baggage, it's okay for the baggage handler to come along.

The new sponsor, The Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, has installed a new school board, and promises strict oversight for the school and Dr. Congo. Buckeye Hope says the new GCCA is a legitimate alternative to the troubled Columbus system.

"I really believe with new leadership, completely new staff and with the state turning over the role of education and sponsorship to other organizations, it's going to be a whole new dynamic," said Anthony English, Carver Prep Board Chairman.

State Senator Teresa Fedor, however, thinks Ohio's charter school law needs to be tightened up, to keep places like GCCA from rising from the dead.

"The charter school laws are so permissive in Ohio," said Senator Teresa Fedor. "They're allowed to shop for another sponsor, so you have these bad actors and bad apples going from one sponsor to another. They can probably exist for another 20 years."

Parents at Carver Prep say the school is off to a good start.

However, parents at the new GCCA do not know about the old GCCA. If they did, they might have a few questions.

Jeff Hirsh, Local 12

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