Sue M. Legg: Will Erik Fresen Go to Jail? Is Charter Corruption in Florida Out of Control?

Sue M. Legg, education director of the Florida League of Women Voters, wrote the following post about the current situation in Florida, which is reaching a critical point. The legislature just passed a bill that showers favors and funding on the state’s charter industry, which has a poor academic and financial record. Scandal and profiteering are commonplace in the charter sector of Florida, yet there is never any accountability demanded by the legislature or the governor.

Legg writes:

Not a surprise that Erik Fresen removed the charter reform measures that Senator Gaetz included in SB 7029. Instead there is a hodge podge of new proposals attacking public schools. It all should finish today. Hopefully, the Senate will stand firm. Perhaps the best outcome is that nothing will pass.

Information is not difficult to find. The Center for Public Integrity ranked states on a corruption index in 2012. Florida received a total grade of ‘C-‘ which was better than that of many states. Internal auditing rules received an ‘A’, but ethics enforcement agencies rated an ‘F’. It sounds like we have rules but we bend and break them.

The legislature must address the problems and dispel the perception expressed in the media that its members are “too cozy with charter schools.” We know where that concern originates:

• Senator Legg, Chair of the Education Committee operates a charter school with his wife.

• Representative Marlene O’Toole is a representative from The Villages whose charter school just dismissed 140 students. While she does not appear to be a board member, she is employed by a private educational foundation Take Stock in Children, and is cited for conflict of interest in voting for millions of dollars in funding for it.

• Rep. Erik Fresen’s sister and brother-in-law operate Academica, a for-profit charter management firm. He is Chair of the House subcommittee for Education Appropriations.

• Representative Manny Diaz and Senator Anitere Flores run Doral College, an online dual enrollment school that is operated by Academica and funded by its charter high schools student enrollments and a transfer of $400,000 from Doral Academy, a charter school.

One of the worst stories involves a $400,000 ‘loan’ from Doral Academy to Doral College, a non accredited college started on the grounds of Doral Academy charter high school. The idea is to enroll high school students in dual enrollment courses at the college, taught by the charter high school teachers. Evidently, only students from these Academica run charters can enroll. Academica is under federal investigation. The students earn credit that cannot be transferred to any accredited school. The college earns money. Who is involved?

• Manny Diaz, Chair Florida House Sub Committee on Choice and Innovation. Representative Diaz is the dean of Doral College in Miami. Bob Sykes alleges there are other conflicts of interest.

• Senator Anitere Flores, Chair Senate Fiscal Policy Committee, member Senate Appropriations Committee, CEO of Academica affiliated Doral College

• Representative Erik Fresen. Chair of the House Education sub committee on Appropriations. Employee of Civica, a real estate company associated with Academica.
Rep. Fresen was named in the federal investigation due to a potential conflict of interest. He served on the board of an Academica charter school and approved a contract to his real estate firm. He currently has added an amendment to the House version of the charter school bill that would allocate part of local taxes for public school capital outlay funds to charter school facilities. No charges have been filed on that measure.

Fresen earns $150,000 from Civica that specializes in charter school construction. Sponsored a bill to share capital outlay with charters

http://ift.tt/2r2mbIw

http://ift.tt/1uhOKvm US DOE found that 3 Mater charter schools signed lease payments with Academica while Zulueta was on the Mater Board.

USDOE audit found at least 4 related party transactions while Fresen was employed at Civica between 2007-2012.

Ethics complaint filed against Fresen in 2011 because of a voting conflict on HB 7195 that prohibited cities and counties from imposing stricter building and zoning rules on charters than on public schools

Affect all charter schools not just him. Change in ethics laws ‘class’

2013 refused to pay a fine for failingto file financial disclosure in 2003
http://ift.tt/2r2maUY

2014 Neighborhood Strategies put out of business in 2009, but Fresen reported on his financial disclosure form that he collected $10,000 per year since 2010

In 2012, Ethics Commission found that From 2008 to 2011 Fresen failed to properly disclose his net worth assets and liabilities

2017 Plead guilty to failure to file income tax return for eight years. Was in office 2008-2016. Faces up to a year in prison. Owes $100,000 in back taxes. Financial disclosure forms and income tax owed do not match

Paid a $10,000 fine for failure to report campaign reports in 2008-9

Ethel Fresen was an ESE teacher at Somerset until 2008.

Magdalena Fresen is Academica vice president

George Levesque House General Counsel cleared Fresen of conflict of interest even though he filed the notification form nine days after he voted. HP 7195 http://ift.tt/2qs5uJB

Academica lease costs were 16.9% compared to 12.2% of total expenses for other charters. Nine schools’ leases exceeded 20% of revenue of schools in 2010.

Mater Academy Inc. tutoring company received $380,000 from Miami Dade and Broward Counties. Fresen amended a bill in 2012 to protect private tutoring companies and then in 2013 was embarrassed by the fraud exposed and opposed the continuation of funding.
****
The buzz about Florida is that there is more self-interest than public interest than in any other state.

Are such allegations warranted? Information is not difficult to find. The Center for Public Integrity ranked states on a corruption index in 2012. Ethics enforcement agencies rated Florida an ‘F’. It sounds like there are rules, but we bend and break them.

Take the case of former Florida House Representative Erik Fresen who served in the House for eight years. It looks like he will serve in a Florida prison next year. He was Chair of the House Education sub committee on Appropriations, and a property consultant for Civica, a real estate company with ties to Academica. Fresen’s sister and brother-in-law operate Academica, the largest for-profit charter management firm in Florida. Their charter school real estate holdings generate over $20 million per year.
Fresen pled guilty this week for failure to file federal income taxes for eight years. During the same period his financial record disclosures required by the House do not match the IRS income reports.

This is simply a culmination of years of questions about Fresen’s ethical behavior.

For example:

• In 2003, he failed to file a financial disclosure form and was cited in 2013 for non payment of the fee.

• In 2009, he paid a $10,000 fine for failure to report campaign reports.

• In 2011, an ethics complaint was filed in 2011 because of a voting conflict on a bill benefitting charter school building and zoning requirements. The complaint was dismissed by the House attorney, George Levesque. He is married to Patricia Levesque who is the C.E.O. of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education that promotes school choice nationwide.

• In 2012, the Ethics Commission found that from 2008 to 2011 Fresen failed to properly disclose his net worth assets and liabilities.

• In 2012, Fresen was criticized for a last minute amendment to protect private tutoring companies that included one owned by Academica, and then in 2013 was embarrassed by the fraud exposed and told by House leadership to oppose the continuation of funding.

• In 2014, Fresen reported large income amounts annually from Neighborhood Strategies, Fresen’s business. The State had closed the company in 2009.

• In 2014, he was named as part of a federal investigation of Academica. A USDOE audit found at least 4 related party transactions while Fresen was employed at Civica between 2007-2012. Academica made a $400,000 ‘loan’ from Doral Academy to Doral College, a non accredited college started on the grounds of Doral Academy charter high school. High school students were dual enrolled in the college and taught by their charter high school teachers.

This year, House Speaker Corcoran made a promise to improve ethics. Curbing profiteering in charters is not among his priorities. Bills from the Senate do not make it out of House committees.

from novemoore http://ift.tt/2qrXuIK

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