(This is Doug Martin’s newest article detailing Florida charter school operators’ funding of school board members in Florida. The first article on Mavericks in Education Florida can be read here.)
While the Miami-Herald recently noticed that people associated with the for-profit school management company Academica have donated a whopping $279,000 to Florida legislators and PACs since 2007, the fact that they also have been buying out the Broward County School Board has slipped under most people’s radar.
Academica head honcho Fernando Zulueta and his brother Ignacio (who runs School Development HC LLC) have, election by election, been buying the votes to charterize Broward County.
And they’ve had help. Also involved is Peter Deutsch, the former U.S. House Democrat and founder of the Ben Gamla Charter Schools which co-opt private school Jewish students, offer Hebrew as a second language, and funnel taxpayers’ money to Academica, which manages at least two of these schools. Peter has also persuaded his wife, Lori, and his late mother Beulah to join in the buyout.
Magdalena Fresen, too, is lending her money. As most know, Magdalena’s street name is Maggie, and she is Fernando Zulueta’s wife and the sister of tax evader and former Academica lobbyist Erik Fresen, the consultant to the Academica-associated Civica architectural firm and current charter school cheerleader in the Florida state assembly.
The funding heats up in 2008, when Academica members helped former special ed. teacher Robin Bartleman get reelected as Broward County’s countrywide school board representative.
On June 4, 2008, Bartleman accepted $500 from Ignacio Zulueta, along with $500 each from Fernando, Peter Deutsch, and Beulah Deutsch.
The funding spoke loud.
In September 2008, the school board agreed to allow the Somerset Academy Middle School, Inc. to hand over its rights to the main Somerset Academy Governing Board, an Academica puppet group, as Bob Sikes has noted.
Despite the September 2009 FBI investigation and subsequent imprisonment of board member Bev Gallagher for taking a $12,500 school construction bribe, the October 2010 arrest of board member, Stephanie Kraft, on building projects-related bribery charges, and a Florida state grand jury investigation, 2009 and 2010 worked out well for those left standing.
In 2009, the Broward County School Board voted to allow Academica’s Ben Gamla South Broward into Plantation, Florida, sealed an agreement with Somerset Academy West Davie, and approved, in a closed agenda session, applications for 10 new Academica-operated charter schools in November.*
District 2’s Patricia Good, in mid-August 2010, picked up $500 from Ignacio’s School Development HC LLC, $500 from Fernando, $500 from Victor Barroso, the board chair at Academica’s Doral Academy, and $500 from Maggie Fresen. Good’s district picked up Somerset Charter High School in Miramar.
At-large member Jennifer Gottlieb pocketed $500 on August 19, 2010, from both Peter Deutsch and his wife, but the funds were worthless. Gottlieb resigned from the school board a year later, after the board dished out $25 million to construct Beachside Montessori Village magnet school in Hollywood where her son quickly got accepted. The grand jury called the school’s construction a “boondoggle.”
The very same day, District 4’s David Thomas received $500 from Ignacio Zulueta and $500 from Maggie Fresen. Maggie handed another $500 to Thomas on December 8, 2010, but he, too, resigned from the school board, citing his wife’s health issues.
After the shakeup dust settled, the Broward County School Board, on July 21, 2011, renewed their agreements with several Academica-affiliated charter schools.
Besides Good’s 2010 Academica donations, no one currently running for the Broward County School Board has filed any election funding records so far. It might be wise now to start asking the board members some more serious questions.
* The 10 new schools associated with Academica and/or the Peter Deutsch-founded National Ben Gamla Charter Foundation were the Ben Gamla Charter High School, the Ben Gamla Charter School Hallandale Campus, the Ben Gamla Charter School North Campus, Somerset Charter High School – Miramar Campus, Somerset Academy Village Charter Middle School, Somerset Bay Academy, Somerset Pines Academy, Somerset Preparatory Charter High-Broward Campus, Somerset Preparatory Charter Middle School, and Somerset Village Academy. You can find them listed under the November 10, 2009 school board meeting agenda (section F: Curriculum/Educational Programs & Student Support), but no individual votes are noted. Final agreements with these charter schools, many of which later changed their names, were finalized on May 18, 2010. Several schools have been granted deferrals, and some communities are fighting against the charters. Links to these meetings show technical errors when reposted, so searches must be done within the Broward County School Board website.