Is Paramount Charter School a bust or a financial treasure chest?
By K.L. Brown
To hear a child say, “They didn’t keep their promise and every day while in school I didn’t feel safe” should be disturbing to any parent or school official. Paramount Charter School is an elementary school located at 7100 W. Okld. Pk. Blvd., in Sunrise and will be wrapping up their first school year this week with some students, parents and staff vowing never to return.
There are some accusations that are alleged and some supported that haven’t stopped them from getting thousands of dollars in tax payer funding this school year, and probably will remain in business for the coming school year unless there are no students to teach!
To defunct a charter school there must be a health or safety issue with that school.
Which raises the question of are these charter schools being policed to the same extent as our regular public schools by the school district they are receiving tax payer monies from, or can they police them in the same manner?
The answer would be no they are not, and parents should be asking questions as to why their tax dollars are being gambled away until the charter schools are closed.
Since 2000, the State has lost $70 million in capital funding given to charter schools that later closed.
Is it because our present and previous governors, Rick Scott and Jeb Bush, are proponents of the Charter School concept (School Choice) and are allowing them to flourish throughout the state?
In a previous report on WPLG News last year, a Broward County School Board member, Laurie Rich Levinson, stated that “even though they have had complaints about Paramount, due to the lack of regulation from Tallahassee there is little the board can do about the problems.”
So until an accumulation of performance failures can be established for the school, it will continue to be in business.
Paramount Charter School has been in the news during this school year for the mass firing of its teachers last October for alleged “bullying” problems (the explanation is a little fuzzy.)
The real issue, it is alleged, was the promissory amount of pay for those teachers that would coincide with what the starting salary was for public school teachers of $36,000 and after hire, reneging and cut-ting the salary down to $30,000.
Paramount is on its third principal; this is the first time Corey Montgomery has held such a position. The second principal only lasted one week and some staff doesn’t remember his name.
The first principal, in speaking to a parent, was very organized and approachable in re-solving any issues brought to her attention.
The board and owner decided to dismiss her after she had already decided to resign.
The owner of Paramount Charter School is Mrs. Jimika Williams Mason, whose corporation, Advancement of Education in Scholars, is based in Boca Raton as a virtual office. Mason’s husband, Cory Mason, also has other business ventures in South Florida and have had several defunct businesses of record.
Her sister Maia Williams is a board member and seemingly a very active participant in the day-to-day activity in the running of the school. Some staff would even venture to say that she has more clout than the principal has in dictating what happens on the school’s campus. She is a multi-task board member that teaches the English, Language Art (ELA) classes allegedly without a certification; she preps and proctors students for the Florida Standardized Assessment Test (FSAT) again without being certified; and allegedly changes grades because no student at Paramount will make lower than a C.
Several staff have stated that Ms. Arnise Lewis also has advised them that she will be changing grades of students under the ‘good cause amendment’, which she has used before. Ms. Lewis allegedly commented, “What good will it be in holding students back?” The issue could very well be that if you give a student a grade they didn’t earn, what they are striving towards in their educational pursuit in determining what they have learned and what they haven’t learned to fill in the gap.
She is the Exceptional Special Education (ESE) Specialist and the acting Vice Principal. So it is alleged that there were no pull outs of the special needs students on a regular basis throughout the school year, because of Ms. Lewis’ administrative duties.
Staff was given a protocol for administering a D or F as a class grade just recently, where the threshold was stringent to meet.
Williams and Ms. Lewis both have access to the grading system where every teacher has the same password.
Williams is presently at the school every day and subs in classes as needed, allegedly without a substitute certificate.
Was Williams instrumental in getting the school Title 1 status for the school? It is believed that she was a major player in obtaining the Title 1 program for the school. Most staff were surprised that the school qualified for the program, in that most students didn’t return the forms.
There is no school nurse, no library, no access to the auditorium, grade levels kindergarten thru sixth instead of kindergarten thru eighth, no staff access to copier, no longer single gender classes, no instructor for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), no longer a computer lab, and no Art or Music classes. Even though grades were still being given for Art and Music thru the last report card period, with no classes offered. The ESOL consult-ant and Charter School consult-ant quit allegedly due to not being paid after school began sometime last year.
The behavioral modification plan for some students was to send them to the office or another classroom everyday if necessary! And that has upset a kindergarten student’s parent whose child was repeatedly per the mother thrown out of his class daily since October by his teacher.
Shauta Freeman’s son Jordan she feels has been “traumatized” by the way in which he has been treated by his kindergarten teacher.
Her son “has been out of his classroom every day since last October she alleges. His teacher “has used abusive language towards him which was recorded by accident on his game player he had in his book bag!”
She went on to say that “He screams and holds on to the door to not go to school because he feels his teacher and class-mates don’t like him,” he has shared with her. The teacher took his entire class to the principal’s office and they said in unison they didn’t want her son in their class at the teacher’s direction.
Ms. Freeman advised that just last week his teacher approached her about retaining her son in kindergarten for the coming school year, and she asked the teacher on what bases was her recommendation for retention because even though he hasn’t been in class since last October, “he has A’s & B’s and all satisfactory marks on his report card for every grading period during the school year!”
It also bothered her that the school would send her son home with his great grandfather who works at the school without notifying her and he was never signed out.
Ms. Freeman has three children that attend Paramount in kindergarten, third and fifth grade. She said the reason she stayed until the end of the school year was that it kept being promised of getting bet-ter. But she definitely won’t send her three kids back next year!
There was an alleged incident recently around March of this year where the Department of Children and Families (DCF) came to the school to inquire if four siblings were at the school and the front office denied they attended school there, whereas, they did still attend the school.
A student was out of the country in Jamaica for three months and was never allegedly marked absent, because the school has to keep enrollment at a certain level.
Some staff members posed the question regarding the parent company of Paramount who issued their checks for most of the school year – Advancement of Education in Scholars if they have an Employer Identification Number (EIN#) which was not on any of their payroll documents that is required to be in issuing payroll checks to them?
A staff member showed their first pay stub for this school year that had more money in taxes shown as being taken out of their pay than they were paid. They requested a corrected copy but never received one.
When some of the staff filed their 2015 taxes they were penalized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and had to pay their own tax deductions on their reported salary. That was discouraging in not getting the expected IRS return that many look forward to and usually have plans for. The school is-sued each employee a 1099 form at the end of 2015 and at that time advised them that they had not taken out any taxes from their pay. The staff was then promised the tax deductions would begin this year in 2016. To date there is no detailed breakdown on pay stubs that reflect any deductions being applied.
Since around March of this year the method of payroll payments changed from either direct deposit or a live check to eChecks still showing the parent company disbursing pay-roll from their account; but as recent as April it changed to now show Paramount Charter School that did have a EIN# on the payroll checks.
The staff also did not have insurance, education reimbursement or a 401k plan during the entire school year that was promised during hiring.
Other questionable alleged money issues are: instructional staff never received annual lead money stipend for class-room supplies, while substitute teachers who remained in class-rooms over allotted time which qualify them for Interim Sub pay never received any mention of an increase in pay.
One of the students stated that “they only had substitutes at the beginning of the school year and no books or school supplies were provided by the school until we got real teachers almost two months after school started.”
This student liked the gender classroom concept, because it lessened the competitiveness be-tween the boys and girls and created an atmosphere where friendships could be established more easily.
However, the disappointment was in the promises made and not delivered upon.
“The music and art classes were discontinued and that was a disappointment,” offered this student.
The computer lab was closed down.
The most “awful part of at-tending this school, was that it didn’t make me feel safe! There were fights almost every morning during breakfast, outside in P.E. and on the bus.” The bus service was provided by a contracted company where the driver only spoke Spanish, so therefore couldn’t communicate with the students until recently either Ms. Williams or Ms. Lewis rode the bus. The bus was very overcrowded it was reported, which is thought to contribute to much of the chaos.
The Physical Education (PE) classes were held in the back parking lot of the school, where there would be broken bottles, condoms, trash, with buses and cars driving through while students were present stated staff.
“Strangers would also walk through the P.E. parking area while we were outside,” continued a student.
It is alleged that a sexual predator was on the premises and noticed by a parent and reported to the front office, but not confirmed if the police was called on that incident? The school is not fenced and local residents and strangers can walk on the school premises and possibly come in contact with students.
Charter schools have become a franchise and business opportunity that allows businesses using state Capital dollars to profit from charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed. Just this past March Democrats in both legislative branches got annoyed with House Republicans for not agreeing to what they called a ‘legitimate” solution to safeguard public money given to charter schools.
So if Paramount Charter School makes it past another school year it will be eligible for capital funding after two years instead of three.
That could be a brilliant learning curb for their owners who can finally find a business they don’t have to defunct and now can make a profit from with tax payers’ money. The owners of Paramount took out a $500,000 loan to show itself solvent in its application for the charter school, in which, they also have to repay. Can the loan be repaid from the funding they receive instead of them working to repay it back?
In the BCPS there were 82 charter schools during the 2014-15 School Year. There were 26 that had school grades below C or Incomplete. A letter from BCPS Charter School Management/ Support dated March 18, 2016 from its Director, Jody Perry, seems to indicate that Paramount was out of compliance and needed to submit a corrective action plan to avoid the default in their contract with BCPS.
Will Paramount be able to solicit a fully certified instructional staff next year that will adhere to the demands they require of them to not only be obedient but loyal? And most importantly will they be able to recruit the approximately 400 required students that they will also need to retain throughout the school year. Will they need to make any changes to make that happen or will it be business as usual from this year?
If found to be true, the micromanagement of the school by the owner’s sister and board member could be a conflict of interest of some kind. Was she also getting paid for her every-day commitment of running the school without the proper credentials?
It’s always said to follow the money.
Was all the money given to Paramount this school year put into salaries of those other than instructional staff? There didn’t seem to be much maintenance of the building or grounds or instructional tools provided to its instructional staff.
The staff dwindled from the beginning of the school year thru the end of the year due to the decrease in enrollment where there were; one kindergarten, one first grade class, one fourth grade class, one fifth grade class and one sixth grade class, along with two third grade classes.
The gender class concept faded away in the mist of the mass firings and withdrawals of students. According to some staff, if you are a parent contemplating sending your child to Paramount, please check on the water leak in the ceiling since the beginning of the year that staff indicated was allegedly causing mole to appear in certain areas of the building that your child would be exposed to. They are looking to bring in an investor group to invest in their school so they can secure themselves for next year.
According to some teachers the Principal just told its present staff in their regular weekly mandatory Thursday staff meeting that they will be back next year regardless of un-popular opinions! So they must be back in compliance with their BCSP contract.
Stay tuned for round two of how your tax dollars are being spent at Paramount!
(At press deadline no response was received from the owner or administrative staff of Paramount Charter School after an attempt was made to get responses to alleged statements made in article by unidentified staff members and students that remain anonymous to protect their identities.)