California has long been a hot bed for charter schools. As of the 2017-18 school year, there were charters in 54 of the state’s 58 counties with more than 628,000 students.
And some of the folks running these schools are making out like bandits according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Here are portions of an in-depth report the newspaper did:
SAN DIEGO — Leaders of some local charter school organizations made more money than superintendents of California’s largest school districts in 2016, the most recent year for which all of their salary information is available.
One of those charter organizations was Inspire Charter Schools, which paid its chief executive, Nick Nichols, $514,197 that year, according to an Internal Revenue Service filing.
Inspire is a home school charter network that enrolled at least 23,300 students in nine schools last fall. Inspire students typically learn from home or online.
Another top payer was Learn4Life, a charter school network with about 44,000 students that says it serves some of California’s most disadvantaged youth, including low-income students, refugees and high school dropouts.
Learn4Life was recently ordered to shut down some of its locations because it violated a state law based on where it located its learning centers.
The parent corporation for Learn4Life charter schools, Lifelong Learning Administration, paid five executives more than $300,000 in 2016, according to its IRS filing.
Lifelong Learning’s previous chief executive, the now-retired founder Dante Simi, was paid $630,920, including severance pay and a settlement for an undisclosed claim, Learn4Life’s attorney Greg Bordo said. The current Lifelong Learning chief executive, Skip Hansen, made $374,374 in 2016, according to the organization’s IRS filing. Hansen is Simi’s son-in-law.
The leader of High Tech High charter schools, which serve about 5,400 students and has been lauded for an innovative education approach, was also highly paid. High Tech High Chief Executive Larry Rosenstock made $351,092 in 2016. Rosenstock did not respond to a request for comment.
Nichols, Hansen, Simi and Rosenstock are among a handful of charter school leaders who have made more money than the superintendents of California’s largest school districts.
Charter school advocates have argued that charter leaders are essentially like business start-up executives and have to focus on more tasks that school district superintendents get help for, such as marketing, acquiring facilities or drawing investors.
Charter school leadership pay tends to get less attention than traditional school district leaders’ pay because charter schools’ data are not as readily available.
Some pay data can be found by looking up a charter school organization’s 990 form, which nonprofits file yearly with the IRS. The most recent 990 forms available for many charter schools are 3 years old, and 990s for some charters can be hard to find, because some file under parent corporations with different names.
Members of the public typically have to file public record requests to charter schools to get their current pay data. But some charter schools post no contact information or names of board members or administrators on their websites, making it difficult to file such a request.
One of the most commonly used sources of public employee pay data is Transparent California, a nonprofit that files public records requests to publish pay data from hundreds of, but not all of, California’s roughly 1,000 K-12 school districts. The nonprofit publishes much less charter school pay data; for example, it publishes pay data from a dozen San Diego County charter schools, most of which covered only 2013.
Robert Fellner, executive director of Transparent California, said the nonprofit’s limited resources, which depend on donations, force it to focus its work “on the traditional forms of government most members of the public seem to be interested in.”
Fellner said it has been difficult to get pay data from several charter schools.
“Our efforts at obtaining charter school data have been made more difficult because many believed the [California Public Records Act] did not apply to them,” Fellner said in an email.
Make no doubt about it, charter schools and money go hand-in-hand. Which is not to say there are not some folks in the charter business who are truly motivated to do all they can to help students get the best education they can obtain. But if you keep tabs on what is going on nationally with charters, you begin to wonder if these are more the exception, rather than the rule.