Keep an eye on charter schools
June 18, 2013
This editorial is not negative to the concept of charter schools, but rather addresses how particular schools were operated. The editor’s concerns reinforce our position that the best way to get strong charters is to have strong authorizers.
Monroe County is zero for three when it comes to leadership at its charter schools.
On June 13, Dennis Bloom of Mount Pocono pleaded guilty to federal tax fraud for failing to report $180,000 in income in 2006, when he was chief executive officer of the Pocono Mountain Charter School, and evading $57,813 in taxes. Bloom was, and still is, pastor of the Shawnee Tabernacle Church, which houses the school. He’ll be sentenced in September.
Tax evasion is just one of Bloom’s problems. A state Ethics Commission report accuses him of paying himself almost $150,000 from the church’s business checking account — funds that the school paid for rental and expenses.
And Bloom, 58, is third local charter school official to plead guilty for their wrongdoing.
In 2005, Tonya Cabarrus and her husband Kenneth Cabarrus, of Tobyhanna, pleaded guilty to felony theft for embezzling taxpayer money from the so-called “Pocono School of Excellence” they founded, Monroe County’s first charter school. Tonya, the school’s chief administrative officer, took $31,000 to buy a BMW; Kenneth, the school counselor, $24,700 to buy a Dodge Ram truck.
The Cabarruses came under the radar when home district Pocono Mountain School District discovered financial irregularities. Within a year of opening, the school was operating at a deficit of approximately $8,300 and had a debt of $164,000 — plus it was behind two months’ rent and renovation costs for space it used in Carriage Square.
Then the couple skipped bail. They had to be tracked down, then transported from Georgia to face sentences of one to two years in state prison.
These are your tax dollars at work. Public school taxes support charter schools, which often operate with little public oversight, an invitation to poor management and abuse. Pocono Mountain Charter School is still open, despite PMSD’s attempts to revoke its charter. The Cabarruses’ School of Excellence closed abruptly on Dec. 18, 2003, after the Cabarruses were fired and the school district refused to release December 2003’s funds. Its 230 students and their teachers were left high and dry.
People complain long and hard about school property taxes, which constitute the majority of their local tax burden. But at least public school records are an open book, their directors publicly elected. The county’s experience with charter schools leaves plenty to be desired. At both PMCS and the erstwhile School of Excellence, those at the top began using the schools as their own cash cow. Their wrongdoing paints the charter school in a bad light and costs money — not just to district taxpayers for the lost education, but to county and state taxpayers for legal proceedings and imprisonment.
Bloom and the Cabarruses before him have created an atmosphere of distrust for any reputable people operating an alternative school using public money. Charter school operations warrant constant, close scrutiny.