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This article explains the financial shenanigans of unscrupulous charter operators. Not every charter founder rips off taxpayers, but the public needs to know when charter schools are set up to benefit greedy investors, not children.
“Eileen Appelbaum, co-author of the important book Private Equity at Work, flagged an important article in Philly.com on how a secretive consulting firm that was previously investigated for corruption and a local law firm are engaged in complex, high cost bond deals to implement an asset stripping strategy that Appelbaum and her co-author Rosemary Batt have called out as a private equity enrichment scheme that impairs operating businesses. It’s bad enough to see this sort of thing take place in the dog-eat-dog world of Corporate America. It’s even worse to see it take place in charter schools, where the losers are students, by virtue of unjustifiably large portions of charter fees go to unproductive rental payments and financing fees, as opposed to education, and to taxpayers, who over time face inflated costs to fund profiteering masquerading as education.”
The article then refers to the scandalous real estate deal to finance a luxurious building for the String Theory charter school in Philadelphia.
“The nub of the looting strategy is the acquisition and leaseback of lavish buildings to house charter schools. Because charters are correctly perceived to be risky tenants, bond financings for these purchases are at junk bond rates, meaning high financing costs are heaped on top of what would already be unjustifiably high rental charges, by virtue of putting schools in educationally unproductive glamorous digs. And of course, in an environment where it’s business as usual to lard up bond deals that could be done on a plain-vanilla basis with far more complicated deals that lower interest rates a smidge in return for allowing consultants to charge hefty fees and the financiers to dump risks worth more than the cost savings on the hapless borrower through derivatives, the financial rent extraction can occur at an even greater scale on a high-cost financing.”
And this is a quote from a story at Philly.com:
“In 2007, Independence Charter School issued a bond for $18 million dollars with help from the PIDC for the purchase and renovation of the vacated Durham Elementary at 16th and Lombard streets. That school had been built in 1907 and maintained by the district with tax dollars for a century. Now, millions in debt and interest from Independence’s charter bonds are also being paid off with tax dollars.
In situations like these, [Rutgers professor Bruce Baker said, taxpayers are paying for the same buildings twice, while relinquishing public ownership of those properties.
“It’s not that anyone is doing anything ‘wrong,’ ” he said, “But rather that public policy permits a bad deal for the public — one that essentially gives away a public asset while charging transaction fees along the way.”
How long will this theft of public property be allowed to continue?
The cases cited in this article are not isolated. There are a growing number of charter schools that buy the property the school will use, using publicly-financed bonds, then pay rent to themselves, at exorbitant rents.
These practices have been perfected by for-profit charter corporations, but some faux-nonprofits do it too.