Halloween was more trick than treat for LEAD Academy charter school in Montgomery as that was the day former principal, Nichole Ivey, filed a civil legal action against board chairperson Charlotte Meadows, the other three board members and the school’s education consultant, Soner Tarim, of Houston, TX.
The suit, which alleges fraud and breach of contract, documents an assortment complaints, ranging from Meadows using school property for a political campaign, discrimination against special education students, miscue of funds and much more.
LEAD responded with a three sentence statement saying that Ivey is “a disgruntled former employee who is providing false and misleading information in order to try and salvage her reputation.”
However, an attorney friend of many years reviewed the filing and told me that if only half of the allegations are true, LEAD has major problems.
The suit can be seen here.
Let’s take a look at some highlights
- Ivey was hired by the LEAD board on April 29, 2019: She began work in May. Her agreed upon salary was $95,000 annually. Shortly after, this was dropped to $93,000 and she was told that she would be an “at-will” employee, something that had never been discussed.
- In June the Montgomery Area Association of Realtors gave LEAD $200,000 in startup funding. However, the suit contends that Meadows only put $100,000 into the school’s account and put the other $100,000 in a separate account controlled by herself and a board member. Ivey had no knowledge of how this money was being used.
- Charter board members can not be involved in day-to-day management of a school. However, Meadows assumed the role of CEO going so far as to demand to attend parent-teacher meetings. (Meadows told a Montgomery radio show that she is only a “volunteer.”)
- Meadows used the school’s finance office for her own political activities. Ivey could not access school financial records.
- Meadows decreed that all school supplies had to be purchased from a company where her campaign chair works.
- An effort was made to minimize students with special needs. Meadows denies this and told the Montgomery Advertiser that LEAD has 19 special needs students. According to the state department of education, LEAD reported an enrollment of 348 students. This means only 5.4 percent of the student population falls in this category. I checked with a number of elementary schools in the Montgomery system and this is less than one-half the percentage of traditional public schools.
- Meadows signed checks without having purchase orders or invoices and without checks being signed by principal Ivey.
- Meadows reportedly told staff to tell parents of special education students “they can’t come here.” The suit also alleges that Meadows said, “We’re a charter school, we don’t have to follow the law.”
- Consultant Tarim and Meadows over-rode the principal on discipline recommendations in fear of losing students which would limit their allocation of state funding.
- Staff was required to attend 15 days of professional development, but only paid for attending seven days.
- There was a lack of adequate health care when the school nurse was not on site. The nurse resigned because LEAD refused to comply with state law regarding student health.
- Tarim is paid $30,000 per month and his duties include such things as handling human resource issues, background checks, developing a faculty handbook, professional development, grant writing, food service, financial maintenance and purchasing. However, Ivey handled these tasks, not Tarim.
- Ivey was told on Sept. 27 by Meadows that the school. “moving in a different direction.” Ivey had no formal evaluation or formal reprimand.
How will this all play out? No one knows. But this is certainly a lot of smoke for there to be no fire.
Editor’s note: Meadows served on the Montgomery County school board from 2006-12. Durden Dean was elected to this same slot when Meadows did not run again. Dean resigned in the summer of 2018 to move to North Carolina. It was up to the school board to fill the few months left in his term. Board member Lisa Keith nominated Meadows to fill this vacancy. She could not get a second to her nomination. I was then selected for this position.
Meadows was also nominated by senate majority leader Del Marsh in 2016 for a seat on the state charter commission. Her nomination was rejected by the state school board.