For-Profit Charter School Founder Uses Extortion and Threats in Letter to Parents

This story originally appeared on Up North Progressive.

Livingston Developmental Academy Co-Founder Chuck Stockwell is considered an institution in the Michigan for-profit charter school industry. Who knew a loving parent relying on vision therapy to cure his daughter of an inoperable brain tumor would over two decades later be the successful businessman of the charter school campus now known as Charyl Stockwell Academy? Chuck Stockwell is semi-retired these days, but he’s still very active in promoting the for-profit charter school agenda and overall operations of CSA through his management company, CS Partners.

CSA is one of the highest ranking schools academically of all for-profit charter schools operating in the state. The school has an overall achievement score of 67 percent proficient in reading and 42 percent proficient in math. Boasting 1000 students, CSA expanded and moved into a new building in 2010. In 2013, for-profit charter school authorizer Central Michigan University granted CSA the status of “school of excellence.”

With all of that wonderful news, it would seem highly unlikely CSA would ever fall on hard times. According to a letter Chuck Stockwell sent out to parents of CSA students, however, things appear to not be going so well after all:

Dear CSA District Community,

I would like to share with you some information about how the state of Michigan funds public charter schools.
• Public charter schools in Michigan are funded from the state education budget.
• The amount each school receives is determined by the number of students enrolled at that school, based on the October student count.
• The per-student amount of money that each school district receives is determined by how much money that the school district was collecting 25 years ago when Proposal A was passed.
• Proposal A was passed to equalize funding between schools. Prior to the passage of Proposal A, the amount of public tax paid to each school district ranged from $2,500 to $12,000 per enrolled student. Now, most school districts receive about $7700 per student. Some still get more and some still get less. Last year CSA District received $7871 per student
• Charter schools receive the same amount of funding as the traditional public school district in which they are located unless that amount is higher than the state average. If that amount is higher than the state average, the charter school receives the state average and the traditional public school receives the higher amount.
• CSA District has about 1,000 students which means the District receives about $7,600,000 from public taxes this year.
• CSA District has nice buildings but not as nice as those in Hartland or Brighton or Howell. Teachers in Hartland, Brighton, and Howell get paid more than teachers in the CSA District. The nicer buildings and higher teacher pay are directly related to each other. How?
◦ Every year, CSA District makes payments on the money they borrowed to buy or build their buildings. This year that payment will be $1,136,900. ALL of that debt payment comes out of the general fund, the per-pupil allotment that CSA District receives from the state.
• All of the traditional public schools in Livingston County use absolutely none of the money they receive from the state to pay for their buildings.
• Traditional public schools can call special elections and pass taxes to pay for capital expenses like buildings and building renovations, computers and IT networks, buses, football fields, furniture and anything else that lasts more than a year. Public charter schools cannot. When a public charter school needs to spend money on capital expenses, they have to spend money that traditional public schools can spend on teacher salaries.  Or they spend money donated by parents or interested parties.

Did you know that if you own a home in any of the local traditional public school districts, even if your children attend a public charter school, your tax dollars are paying for the buildings and equipment that traditional public schools are buying? You can see the exact amount on your tax bill. None of those building and equipment tax dollars follow your child to their public charter school.

It isn’t fair.

There is much more to this story but I will add just one more thing here. Traditional public schools have a bankrupt defined-benefit pension system that has to be bailed out by you. Each year, billions of the state of Michigan’s public school dollars are spent bailing out that pension system. Public charter schools that use more cost-effective 401k-type defined contribution pensions receive none of that bailout money. Yet your tax dollars pay for that bailout.

What can you do?

Don’t vote for traditional school taxes for buildings and equipment! It’s the voters, YOU, who vote on those traditional public schools millages and if they pass, it is you who will pay. Vote NO!

What else can you do?

• Talk to your State Representative, State Senator, and the Governor. Tell them you won’t vote yes on school taxes until public charter school students and families get their fair share.
• Write a letter to your local School Board and tell them you will no longer vote for taxes unless public charter school students get their fair share.
• Vote for politicians that support public charter schools and make sure they know you are mad that your children are being treated unequally. Many of those politicians don’t know about this inequity or worse, want public charter schools to receive less money until parents send their children back to traditional public schools.
• Vote for legislators who support public charter schools. You can find out who they are here.

And finally, help CSA keep their great teachers. Even though CSA District gets more than a million dollars less each year for the 1000 public school students the system serves, the District is managed carefully at a low cost.

For your donation of just $250 per student, CSA District can bring their teachers’ salaries a lot closer to the salaries of teachers in the traditional public school districts surrounding us. Won’t you commit to one annual, tax-deductible payment of $250 to the CSA Education Foundation?  The money will go straight to teachers in grants to encourage them to stay and teach in the CSA District.  Please support your teachers with the biggest donation you can make.

Thank you.

In partnership with you,

Chuck Stockwell

Imagine being a CSA parent reading this letter. You would probably be a little freaked out that Chuck Stockwell is ordering parents to vote no on school millage elections until the for-profit charter school industry gets their fair share AND fork over cash to cover teacher salaries. You might wonder if the school is in financial distress. You might wonder what’s going on that Chuck Stockwell isn’t telling you. You’re absolutely right to wonder about those things and maybe be worried too.

Let’s break this letter down, shall we? The first part – a Reader’s Digest version of how schools are funded through Proposal A is correct. We decided twenty-five years ago it wasn’t fair that property owners should foot the bill to educate children living in the community their property was part of and instead put the tax burden on people who may or may not own property, but still have to buy things.

Now what Chuck doesn’t share with parents in this letter is real public schools can ask for millage elections because they are actually a form of local government in the state with physical boundaries like a township or county and publicly elected officials in the form of a school board; they can hold elections to raise revenue within the boundaries of their district. Charter schools, unlike real public schools, are a business that operates like a grocery store or auto mechanic’s shop offering goods and services to customers who can come from anywhere. In this case, the goods and services are educating students. We don’t allow grocery stores and auto mechanic shops to make people vote on giving them more money because they’re businesses, not governments. Charter schools, grocery stores, and auto mechanic shops don’t have physical boundaries or elect officials to make decisions; it’s up to the business owner to figure out how to bring in more money if their store or shop or charter school just isn’t drumming up enough business to stay open. As for charter school boards, did the people of CSA elect them, or were they chosen by the owner of the school? Business, not a government. That’s why for-profit charter schools can’t hold millage elections and that IS fair.

So then what does Chuck do? He orders the parents reading this letter to vote no on millages for the real public schools and tells them it’s because the school that’s actually a government has the authority to do something that the school that’s a business can’t do, because businesses don’t have physical boundaries and therefore don’t have a district of constituents. Did you get that? Chuck Stockwell, one of the founding fathers of Michigan charter schools, just explained why charter schools don’t work and are actually leaching from public school districts in per-pupil state tuition grants and Title I funds, but can’t leach from all of the funds real public schools need to stay open. He even goes on to tell you the unionized teachers in real public schools receiving pensions are stealing money from you and it’s not fair that charter schools only offer their nonunion employees 401k plans just like other for-profit businesses. Most state employees receive some form of pension including police officers. Is Chuck Stockwell crying stop thief at those state employees and their pensions? Why is it only teachers are criminals for receiving a pension from the state?

And then AND THEN Chuck Stockwell orders the parents of students attending CSA to fork over $250 per pupil so the for-profit charter school can give teachers a raise. With an enrollment of 1000 children, that’s $250,000 Chuck demands parents give him right now. If you’re thinking about the numbers he offers in the letter, you’ve by now figured out that $7871 per pupil is $7.8 million dollars of Michigan taxpayer money CSA will receive in October to run CSA. $250,000 is only roughly 3 percent of that total, why can’t CSA teachers get raises from tax dollars like teachers from a real public school?

Because not only is CSA a business with a management company (CS Partners) that's paid with taxpayer dollars to pay for running the school and hiring staff and keeping the lights on and paying $1.6 million in mortgage for the brand new school building built in 2010, but they also have to pay their charter school authorizer which happens to be Central Michigan University. How much does CMU get? 3 percent.

Dear parents of Charyl Stockwell Academy. You made the choice to send your children to a school that is not a school district and therefore has no governmental authority to tax people so the school can pay their bank note on the school building. They have to pay their management company and the university that rubber stamped their business plan to teach kids how to read, add, and subtract and still make a profit. This is why only about 60 percent of the public tax money CSA gets from the state actually pays for educating your children. The real public school you decided not to send your children to yet you still get to vote on millage increases and elect the school board has to spend 100 percent of that $7,871 per student on educating the children at the school. Whether you vote yes or no on the millage doesn’t change the fact you decided a business could do a better job than the public school and enrolled your children there.

Parents of CSA at the next board meeting need to ask the unelected board some questions. Why is CSA suddenly having money issues? How much money does the CEO/Superintendent/Director/Whoever is in charge of running that school make? Is it an amount the charter school can reasonably afford? How much money does CS Partners take from CSA funds for operating costs? Also, ask them where they get the nerve to insist on paying for teacher raises out of your pockets, because if any real public school tried to pull that it would be front page headlines in papers all over the state. Charter schools insist they’re real public schools, so they shouldn’t be charging you tuition.

Parents have every right to know what is going on at CSA that would make Chuck Stockwell send out a letter like that.