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ONLY ON 3 Investigation: Charter school owner under federal investigation

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -– Baker Mitchell, the founder of Roger Bacon Academy in Leland, is facing some challenges. He is under federal investigation.

His newest charter school, Douglass Academy, has an enrollment problem with the state and there are questions about where millions of your tax dollars are going to support his schools.

Mitchell is an elusive person. His secretary hangs up on us when WWAY calls with questions and he rarely appears in public to talk with the media.

Mitchell would not acknowledge whether he knew he is being investigated by the US Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General.

While the document that confirms the investigation does not go into detail, Brunswick County Superintendent Dr. Edward Pruden thinks it has to do with improper enrollment practices.

Two former employees told WWAY, on condition of anonymity, that they were aware of fraudulent ways of counting students to beef up the numbers at Mitchell’s charter schools.

For instance, they say some students would just show up for the first 20 days so the school could get the allocated tax dollars and then quit, and go back to Brunswick County Public Schools.

In Brunswick County for example, Charter Day School gets $2,464 from the county and $4,692 from the state for each student. That’s a total of more than $7,000 per pupil.

A lot of money to play with if that student never shows up for class after the first 20 days, and a burden on the county school system that takes the student back.

At Douglass Academy in Downtown Wilmington, Mitchell only has about 35 students. The state says he needs 65 to be open.

Mitchell faces a hearing next month in Raleigh to explain what he will do to get the numbers up.

"It (the statue) specifies no time limit on which you are to achieve that 65 number. We have over 90 students registered for this fall. We are looking forward to growing to fulfill our charter,” said Mitchell.

Then, there are the tax returns from Charter Day for 2008 through 2012 which show Mitchell got millions of your tax dollars from management fees, as well as for building and equipment rentals. Add the five years of returns up, and it’s almost $16 million.

State law says Mitchell does not have to explain how he spends the money in that account, but several employees have told us Mitchell takes the building and rental money and pays it to a company called Coastal Conservancy LL, which he owns.

Coastal Conservancy then charges Charter Day to rent the land, which Mitchell owns as well, and then charges the school rent for the buildings, the chairs, the tables, and even the pencils. Tax dollars going straight back into Mitchell’s pockets, which he is not spending on students or teachers.

Mitchell says all dollars are accounted for in the school’s audit.

“We’ve had a series of no findings audits. We keep our books identically to the District’s. We are required by state law to maintain charter accounts. All of that information is in our audits that are publically available if you would like to read them,” said Mitchell.

WWAY asked Mitchell to explain what actually are in the audits, but he would not elaborate.

“If you are too lazy to read the audit, I cannot help you,” said Mitchell.

Americas For Prosperity sponsored Friday’s open house at Douglass, claiming it is excited about supporting school choice.

WWAY tried to sit down with its director, John Dudley, and discuss the federal investigation and how Douglass is not meeting enrollment requirements.

While WWAY had the documents to show him, he refused to look at them and said he had no comment.

"We talked enough. I can't be here all day,” said Dudley.

WWAY also tried to talk to local politicians at the open house about the investigation, but they said this was the first they were hearing about it.

Disclaimer: Comments posted on this, or any story are opinions of those people posting them, and not the views or opinions of WWAY NewsChannel 3, its management or employees. You can view our comment policy here.

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WWAY done some research

If you look at http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2013/Bills/Senate/PDF/S337v8.pdf

You will find:
"The number of students to be served, which number shall be at least 65, and the minimum number of teachers to be employed at the school, which number shall be at least three. However, the charter school may serve fewer than 65 students or employ fewer than three teachers if the application contains a compelling reason, such as the school would serve a geographically remote and small student population."

So far I don't see an issue with this. Baker is correct there is no time framed given and I really think the school could fall under "geographically remote and small student population".

Also, need to think if he was in it for the money he would have closed this school right away. However, RBA (if you want to put it this way) is using the profit to keep it open at a lose.

Brush up on your reading comprehension

WWAY, "Two former employees told WWAY....they were aware of fraudulent ways of counting students..."
Just because someone is "aware of fraudulent ways" doesn't mean it has happened. These "ex employees" (which I am sure don't exist) are not claiming they knew of any fraud perpetrated.

Does anyone have any reading comprehension or skills in logical deduction? This article has NO news, and no information whatsoever.

The Brunswick County Superintendent "thinks it has to do with improper enrollment practices." ---THINKS? You mean he doesn't know??

If there were a real story here...WWAY would publish it for all to see instead of what people "think".

If

this guy was raking in MILLIONS - he was taking FAR more than $4,000 per student.

From the sound of the article he was operating a pretty elaborate ponzi scheme.

I've had both private and public education and one is no different than the other for quality of education - I hope THAT has changed but from what I've read the jury is still out on it.
But if this is the type of leadership we have for the Committee, and at this particular school, then this guy did MORE HARM than good in the fight between public and private education supporters.

Vog

WWAY....this story is not

WWAY....this story is not getting the feed back you are looking for. Go forward and quit beating this dead horse. If Mr. Mitchell can provide this quality of education for students and still make some money from it....obviously you should be questioning the 'county and state' schools who are not getting the same results, but are getting paid more money.

What a Joke

This is a joke, Mitchell is a member of the NC Charter School Council. His school, Douglas Academy, has 35 students. State law says "...the number of students to be served, which number shall be at least 65." Does he think that because he is on a council that advises the state board that he is somehow an exception to the law. It's the same old thing, give money and you get what you want! How much money did Mitchell give to get appointed to this board? Follow the money! Again, this is a joke, and Mitchell is laughing his way to the bank on the backs of the children of NC.

It isn't a "joke". It's called "capitalism" remember?

It's one of the fundamental freedoms we still have here in America. Mitchell isn't "...laughing his way to the banks on the backs of the children of NC." He's simply found a way to make money AND provide the children of NC with an education that is far superior to that which the state provides on its best day! There isn't anything wrong with that. Education is important and is severely lacking here in NC.

Don't you think it a bit funny that when it comes to our children and our old people, this state NEVER has any money and these are the first things that are chopped on during budget talks? Do you see ANY of our commissioners, senators, legislators, judges or other lawmakers in our government that aren't absurdley wealthy?

Gubbmint work pays well dudd't it? But guess what? Gubbmint isn't supposed to be part of the "capitolism" tree! Think about it!

What a Shame

Mitchell sits on the NC Charter School Council, a council that approves all new charter schools and acts as the advisory council to the State Board of Education. With that in mind, his latest school, Douglas Academy, has fewer than 35 students (according to your reporting.) NC State charter school law says, "The number of students to be served, which number shall be at least 65." With over half of the school year gone and still having less than 35 students, he can hardly claim his school is abiding by state law. Yet he is on a council that provides advise to the NC state board? All the while he is under investigation by the Feds (no one knows the details, except him.) The state seriously needs to consider new council leadership! Or is this more of the same good old boy NC politics?

I currently have 2 boys that

I currently have 2 boys that attend RBA/Charter Day School and 1 son that attended through 8th grade. I drive 36 miles, round trip, every morning to take them to school, and then go back to pick them up in the afternoon, equaling 72 miles PER DAY that I drive in order for them to attend this school. I do it because it provides a good education and school experience. There are no buses, no "free" lunches, or even a lunch room, but I still think it is a great school.

As for Mr. Mitchell not discussing his case with reporters, I have learned from experience that the media will twist your words around to fit their agenda. Never, EVER, speak to the media if you want the truth to be told!

I thought wrong

Have you volunteered at the school? Students don't have access to PC's that work. I used to go in to help with AR testing. PC was broken in one class, the teacher didn't seem to care. My children have said most of the PC's are broken on computer lab. The INTERNET is ALWAYS down. As a matter of fact, it was down today- for more than 3 hours. SKYPE- emergencies- there would be no way to get in touch with with co-workers during emergencies. Flooding with a new drainage system. Years ago, I was called into the headmasters office & was made to erase all pictures I had taken at the school. Bullying is ignored. I've watched it happen. Benchmarks- charter schools aren't required to report the grades (if I understood what the teacher was telling me). If your child missed benchmarks- they go in a closet with other students & cheat, with no direct supervision like there is during EOG's. Many years at this school & too many mistakes. You know the saying "get outta here"? The teacher of the month's favorite is "Shut up!" As if to say "really!? Get outta here!" Just today I got to here a middle school faculty member curse. But so what? I'm I'm an adult. But my children have heard several curse words from teachers. The turn over rate is EXTREMELY HIGH. Why is that?
I think many parents ooohhh & AAAHHH over this school b/c they don't go in daily & volunteer. They go to work. Do you volunteer? I'm a parent, straight up. I'm not a reporter. I report what I see & here. Nothing is twisted on my end.

for profit education

is a risky thing. This is the latest against a so called for profit college:

http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2014/03/02/us-government-deals-a-d...

a snippet:
"Even more than the lack of the ability to transfer credits, the government also notes "upon graduation, ITT students faced another sobering reality," as the prospects for new high-paying jobs as a result of the degrees were over-promised and under-delivered. The CFPB suggests ITT "exploited students" by exaggerating the salaries its students received upon graduating. In fact, the National Center of Education Statistics reveals graduation rates at for-profit colleges was just 28% in 2004."

We do not yet know if this guy is guilty or not - BUT the financial twists and turns leads me to believe he is hiding something.
Anytime you inject profits into education you run the risk of profits over shadowing education's importance.......
I hope I am wrong....
Vog

Is it right?

My question to all of you who support Baker is this:

If the superintendent of NH or BC schools was pulling down 3 million a year (instead of 125,000) would you complain? What if the superintendent never had to report for work? Would you complain about the superintendent? What if a school system bought trailer after trailer, and did not hire certified teachers, so that more money could be paid to the superintendent? Would you complain?

If you say yes, then you must take issue with Baker. By the way, does everyone know he sits on the board that approves all charter schools in NC?

The truth of the matter is that it is wrong for taxpayers to pay someone this much money, when those funds could buy computers, books, or additional teachers. If the money was going to a state employee, we would be all up in arms. But because its a private citizen, many just say "its just the American way". At the end of the day Baker has robbed our students of opportunities because of the money he has paid himself. Can anyone argue he has earned this money? Can anyone argue that a nonprofit should generate this type of income for its operator? Can anyone argue that he HASN'T taken opportunities away from children-- even the ones at his own school? I'd love to hear the justification.

If anyone is alarmed by charter schools, vouchers etc, consider this.... many tea party/conservatives are all for school choice. Why? Because with choice comes fewer regulations, fewer accountability measures AND VIRTUALLY NO TAXPAYER ACCOUNTABILITY. Why does this matter? Because then education can be put up on the auction block. Rich entrepreneurs can make a killing. This talk of "choice" is really a clever cover for "public money for the taking". What if I have an issue with the way NHC is spending money? I can petition the board, elect new board members etc. What about charters? I am out of luck. Yet they are operated using my tax dollars. So now, my tax money is being spent, yet I have no recourse, no one is accountable to me. Why isn't the tea party up in arms over this?

The most thorough

The most thorough investigative piece from WWAY in probably years and they still won't take the time, or gather the necessary brain power, to read through an audit! Or at least they don't give any indication they have.

Who did the audit? There are

Who did the audit? There are plenty of local firms that do them, without much in the way of due diligence.

A shame

The school may provide good education, but if the CEO/administrator is absconding with the money under fraudulent terms then he is stealing from all of us. In the end it will hurt the students as the schools may have to be shuttered. Seems the problems extend outside Brunswick county so it seems that it is not one mans revenge

I don't blame him for being

I don't blame him for being elusive. I'd hang up on you too.

I'm just not seeing what the man has done wrong? Looks like somebody has it out for him.

Can someone explain...

why the charter school keeps the $7,000+ if the student returns to the public school after 20 days? Shouldn't it, at the very least, be prorated?

Unless you have taught in

Unless you have taught in the classroom at this school you have no clue. By far the best school I've ever worked for.

Public Schools

If the school is paid $7000.00 a year for a child and they are stuffing 30 in a class room that comes out to be $210,00.00 a year.

If the above is correct, then why are teachers not making more money? So, if you raise the teachers pay to 100K that would give the school board $120k per teacher to waste.

Baker, I have known you for years and I had two boys to go through your system. I know first hand the job your system does and it is outstanding. The problem is you are making the public schools look bad because they can't meet the standard your students achieve.

The future of NC Education

Privatize and for-profit! Pay "teachers" minimum wage and erase all secular science and only teach the Bible!

THIS is my kind of school and that's how YOUR children will become drones for MY corporate bosses!

guestPopeArt

If you could only find your brain. However, with it stuck that far up, don't think it is possible.

Teachers are paid the same as public schools, if not they wouldn't be able to hire teachers. Also, I don't ever remember by boys having to study the bible there.

What parent cuts their

What parent cuts their child's summer break to attend year round school as a brand new student with the intention of pulling them out in a month? No decent parent, that's who. We're not talking about trying out football or taking a dance class...this is a child's education, their circle of friends, their teacher that they see 7 hours a day. Of course there are some students who start Day 1 and after a month of providing their own transportation, etc. the parents realize that it is not the right fit for their family - but these are parents who started Day 1 with the intention of staying. Not merely using their kid to fill some seat. Not to mention that the school has waiting lists in nearly every grade. There is no need to pry homeschool or private school kids or any kids for that matter that Pruden and these "former employees" refer to - there are parents waiting on the edge of their seat to get the call that their child has moved into a spot. It's about time that Pruden takes time to focus on his own schools and leave the educators in schools of choice alone to do their jobs.

Charter vs Public

My daughter goes to a great charter school. I am not against charter schools.

But this man sits on the office of charter school's board, gets his schools approved and everyone turns their eyes from him. He is in bed with Art Pope

How exactly is it that there are waiting lists and they don't have # of students that are required?

And how can Pruden operate if this shyster is siphoning off

And in full disclosure....I don't even live close to his schools, but I know that the Charter School office is a sham

Can I add one more thing

Another reason some of them leave is because they do not want to conform to the rules and regulations that the school had (public school say they have them but they don't). I remember my son telling of a kid leaving because he didn't want to cut his hair are wear the required uniform.

attendance

The reason attendance is up the first 20 days is because parents have their children attend there for free babysitting since it is year round school. Then they move them to a regular public school that has bus service because they are lazy. Happens at other schools too. Why should Mitchell have to prove anything to anyone? The school speaks for itself and frankly I applaud him for providing the best in education.

If the school is running on

If the school is running on taxpayer dollars, then he should have to prove everything to the taxpayers.

Dr. Edward Pruden...

has an ax to grind because the Brunswick County Board of Education knowingly underpaid RBA and got caught. Once Mr. Mitchell proved his case regarding the underpayment, Brunswick County had to pay and Pruden is pi$$ed off.

The quality of the education provided by RBA far exceeds that of any public school in Brunswick County.

As far as what Mr. Mitchell does as far as owning property then renting it to himself...perfectly legal. Numerous medical practice partners own their buildings then rent it to themselves.

How many of those practices

How many of those practices are run primarily by money from taxpayers?

Ever heard

Ever hear of medicaid medicare social security disability? 60 percent of every dime spent in the medical system is from the Government in one form or another come on man! at least with charter schools the parents can actually have a say in what they are paying for instead of some government entity.

Come clean

If I were under federal investigation and I knew for a fact that I had not done anything wrong or illegal, I would be willing to discuss the matter to clear the air and, foremost, to clear my name. For him to dodge questions, refuse to cooperate and have his secretary hang up on the media, then that's guilt. Plain and simple. He is hiding something. I have friends whose children went to RBA and they talked about sketchy activity at that school, particularly having to do with the football/cheerleading program. I hope the school and its founder are thoroughly investigated.

re: Come Clean

"I have friends whose children went to RBA and they talked about sketchy activity at that school, particularly having to do with the football/cheerleading program."

Hearsay at it's best Observer.