Arizona: The State Where Anything Goes for Charter Schools

The Phoenix New Times has an long, in-depth article about one of the state’s nearly 600 charter schools. It is possibly the weirdest and proud of it. Nepotism abounds because it is not against the law for charters (only for public schools). The founder of the school has a free hand to do whatever he wants. State laws don’t matter much at Metro Arts Institute.

It begins:

“The photograph is hard to look at. In it, a middle-aged man wearing a hooded black cape kneels before a teenaged girl. In one hand, he clutches a cloth; his other hand rests on the girl’s feet. She looks sad, and a little scared.

“The man in the photograph — which showed up on social media in spring 2016 — is Matthew Baker, the girl’s poetry teacher and the head of Metropolitan Arts Institute, the Phoenix charter school….

“Foot-washing is all in a day’s work at Metro Arts, where Baker, who’s also the founder of the seventh-through-12th-grade school and its board president, runs around dressed as a wizard. Who, in his spare time, has operated an online spiritual school offering “the transformational river of life energy in which spiritual development unfolds.” Where the building manager and his wife, the school’s director of operations, live on campus and once raised money for the school by hosting an after-hours rave party complete with promotions from pot dispensaries….

“Matt Baker is his own boss, owner of a school overseen by state legislation that allows him to hire his wife to spend a $2 million annual budget to oversee the safety and education of about 250 kids.

“Where charters are concerned, the Arizona Legislature doesn’t care how the sausage gets made,” says Chris Thomas, associate executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, a private nonprofit group that offers training and legal advice to traditional public schools. “All they care is that the sausage gets made.”

“A group of former Metro Arts teachers do care about how the sausage is getting made.

“In late June, these teachers filed a seven-page complaint with the state charter board. Their anonymous grievance requests all-new management, rails against Metro’s “completely insular structure of the administration and board,” its lack of transparency, odd behaviors that “escalate in a consequence-free environment,” and “vast liberties … taken with both authority and public funds.”

“Complaining about those “vast liberties” got one of these former teachers — artist Sue Chenoweth — fired last year from her job teaching visual art at Metro, she claims.

“They knew I had cancer and needed the health insurance,” Chenoweth says. “So much for loyalty.”

“When Koryn Woodward Wasson, another esteemed local artist who taught drawing at Metro, objected to what she perceived to be Metro’s lack of transparency and treatment of Chenoweth, she says she received an email asking her to clean out her classroom and return her keys at the end of the 2015-16 school year.

“Afraid of a similar fate, those still employed at Metro won’t talk about their involvement — if any — with the complaint, which alleges, among other things, that

• the head of school hasn’t been evaluated in 10 years;

• no attempts by the school have been made to fundraise to “support teachers and school programs”;

• Baker spent $3,000 on a massage chair for his own personal use;

• he collects bonuses as a teacher and as an administrator, but doesn’t share that wealth with his faculty;

• board meetings are scheduled at times when no faculty are available to attend;

• minutes from those meetings aren’t readily available; and

• Metro teachers are paid below standard pay rates and haven’t had raises in years.

“The complaint also requests structural changes — saying that teachers should have input on assembling a new board of directors that isn’t made up of friends and family of the head of school, one that invites them to meetings held in a room accessible to the public. There’s also a request for a parent-teacher organization to assist with marketing and fundraising for the school.”

Baker dismissed all the complaints as the grumblings of an ex-employee.

Let the good times roll! (With taxpayer money.)

from novemoore


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