Ethics questions arise over Achievement for All’s charter management bid

Ethics questions highlight charter school management

A  struggling Mecklenburg County charter school seeking management solutions ran into ethical questions about the management company vying to fix their problems. Challenge Foundation Academy (CFA) CEO Tony Helton is in the middle of conflicts of interest questions surrounding Aristotle Prep in Charlotte.

Helton, who is a Charter School Advisory Board member and CEO of Team CFA, a foundation that has provided advice and financial support to Aristotle from the beginning, recently formed the school management business Achievement for All Children.

Both Helton and fellow Charter School Advisory Board member Joe Maimone recused themselves from discussion of Aristotle Prep in the May meeting of the Charter School Advisory Board due to conflicts of interest. No conflict of interest was recorded when Achievement for All Children was the only company asked to bid to run challenged Aristotle charter school.

Achievement for All Children was incorporated as a non-profit corporation on Feb. 6, 2017 to work with “public, charter and private schools to improve the opportunity of all children in the USA to have access to a quality education.” CEO of the newly formed Achievement for All Children, Helton is now seeking a contract to run Aristotle in exchange for 5 percent to 10 percent of its revenue. The Charlotte Observer quoted Helton as saying that would likely come to $70,000 to $140,000 annually depending on whether the school makes the academic gains to earn the 10 percent. The actual amount would depend on enrollment and fund-raising.

The board of Helton’s new management company includes Rob Bryan, who was a leading school choice advocate during his four years as a state representative; Darrell Allison, who heads Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina; and Phillip Byers, president of Thomas Jefferson Community Education Foundation. That group has no track record to examine, nor was any other company invited to bid for the job. Former state Rep. Rob Bryan of Charlotte says they can save Aristotle Prep, a Charlotte charter school with academic and money problems.

Aristotle reported to be in academic and/or financial trouble is asking for a change in its charter that would allow the newly created management company to take over operations. A charter management company or consultant takes a slice of the public money that might otherwise go to classrooms. Persistently low test scores are part of the problem at Aristotle, which opened in 2013.

Supportive lawmakers want to ensure the people who authorize and oversee charter schools such as the members of the Charter School Advisory Board are supportive and knowledgeable. However since there is a small pool to draw from, there is a lot of connections and overlap between the group who scrutinize and those being scrutinized.

“I’m uncomfortable from a business perspective. I’m uncomfortable from an ethical perspective,” Gregory Alcorn, the state Board of Education member who represents the Charlotte region told the Charlotte Observer.

RC Catalyst requested an update on the ethics ruling on the possible conflicts of interest, but did not receive a response by press time.

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