A Plainfield Charter School Vulture

As of two and a half months ago, I am a member of the Plainfield Board of Education. The following article is my opinion, and is in no way reflective of the views of the entire board. I give a very special thanks to education advocate Mother Crusader for the diligent research that contributed to this.

This June, Plainfield students will lose a charter school that has exhibited serious financial mismanagement, as explained in the state’s letter of non-renewal for Central Jersey Arts Charter School.

CJACS “failed to meet four of six applicable [finance] standards,” according to the New Jersey Department of Education, who also cited years of incomplete financial records and internal fiscal controls that contained “multiple weaknesses.” Back in 2014, the state casted doubt on whether CJACS could “generate sufficient cash flow to achieve or sustain operations in the future.” All in all, forty percent of charter schools that fail do so for financial reasons.

What a pity then, that the State of New Jersey has granted a charter to forces with a history of financial incompetence, at best, to operate here in Plainfield.

Mike Piscal, founder and executive director of College Achieve Public Schools, is rather fond of making a certain flashy promise to win over parents. “I guarantee that your kids will get into college,” Mike often brags, in one way or another. He already does so here in Plainfield, where his newest project, College Achieve Central Jersey Charter School, is set to open this September. The school will be kindergarden through fifth grade, and open enrollment has begun.

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The business card of Rachelle Nelson, Principal of College Achieve Central Charter School

Mr Piscal is less interested in letting you know his history as the shamed founder of the Inner City Education Foundation, a large charter school management company in California.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, ICEF leaders took pride in their “secret sauce”, a balanced program of “academics and extracurricular activities.” According to some parents, the more troubling secrets at the ICEF were the day to day behavior of its enigmatic leadership.

In the words of former Los Angeles United School District Board of Education President Caprise Young, ICEF exhibited “substantial bad judgement and lack of transparency with [its] finances,” which lead Piscal’s organization to a financial near-death experience in 2010. This is all despite cutting corners.

Apparently, employees complained of supply shortages, and were worked long hours with no additional compensation. It’s no suprise that teacher turnover ranged from 10 to 50 percent each year in ICEF’s schools, which served 4,500 students.

An even larger corporate charter school outfit, Alliance, wished to purchase the struggling company, but the sale fell though. It was ultimately new investors and uber-rich donors sympathetic to the charter school movement that prevented the total dissolution of the Inner City Educational Foundation.

As for ICEF’s founder, Mike Pascal, he had to go. According to the Los Angeles Times, Piscal resigned amidst the controversy in October of 2010. Los Angeles social justice writer and education advocate Robert D. Skeels, who followed the situation closely, asked in early 2011 “Where’s the money, Mike?” concluding that even if there was no criminal malfeasance, Piscal would have committed “the most unconscionably incompetent accounting of all time”.

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Piscal next spent a couple of rather unclear years working as executive director at Andre Agassi’s College Preparatory Academy, part of the tennis star’s once troubled Las Vegas charter school network.

Now he is in our midst, making promises of college achievement to parents that want nothing more than to get there. At least initially, he brought one of his shamed ICEF friends along.

On his Board of Trustees during his first New Jersey application – which was denied – was Mike’s relative, John Piscal, CFO of ICEF from 2001 until 2007 before serving as the doomed outfit’s Chief Development Officer.

As Mr Piscal dashes around the country like a corporate executive – from California, to Vegas, to New Jersey – on behalf of his management organization, this blogger can’t help but question commitment that his self-proclaimed “entrepreneur” has for any given community.

We should all be asking these questions.

A Larger Context

I suppose Mike Piscal’s arrival to the Queen City is representative of much larger issues concerning self-governance in black and brown America today.

From Detroit’s stint with state a appointed emergency manager overpowering the Motor City’s elected mayor, to the state appointed school superintendents in Newark and Camden, to unelected state monitors that regularly overrule superintendents elsewhere in our area, state governments are making decisions left up to locals in richer communities.

Perhaps the most pervasive form of subversion occurs when dozens of states grant school charters in poorer, working class, black and brown cities without the input of local populations, whose elected officials have no say on whether or not Mike Piscal and other fly-by-night education vultures can operate.

Should Piscal fail and head to, say, Atlanta, in search of another buck, who do we hold accountable? The amorphous “state”? Governor Chris Christie, who only received a small fraction of Plainfield’s votes during his last gubernatorial race?

Long after Mike Piscal is a distant memory, the endless turnstile of state-sponsored education entrepreneurs feasting on our public dollars will likely continue in Plainfield, which happens to be the only municipality in Union County with a single charter school.

Clearly, the state of New Jersey can’t see the real difference between local, community-lead charters and business ventures – or sound financial management from incompetence, for that matter.

School closures are devastating to students and families that make an investment in a school’s vision. These families are forced into tough decisions, and ultimately must reinvest valuable time readjusting to a new environment.

It is up to parents to educate themselves, and to take lofty promises from hungry businessmen with a grain of salt.

a1956-vulture

8 thoughts on “A Plainfield Charter School Vulture

  1. Thank you for this well-stated and well-researched opinion. CJACS should have had its charter rescinded years ago (even before RSS became involved) for many reasons, only one of which was fiscal mishandling.

    One main problem, at least here in NJ, is that the vast majority of citizens do not understand the concept behind the charter movement, nor do they understand that charter schools ARE public schools and MUST follow most of the same educational laws and administrative codes as any other public school. While there are major differences between a Board of Trustees and a Board of Education, as well as some facility code differences, the actual daily and long-term administering of a charter school by its Director or Principal,Head of School of CEO (or whatever the person’s title) is no different from that of a traditional district school. Fiscally, there is no difference. Both traditional and charter have the same financial responsibilities for purchasing, recording and reporting to the State.

    There has to be better transparency for Plainfield’s (and all) charter schools. both existing and planned. We cannot continue to “experiment” with the education of our children. How many years have been wasted for those who attended CJACS? It is inexcusable and a shame.

    I wonder if NJ’s DoE and charter office researched this planned charter school as well as did Mr. Rutherford?? One has to wonder.

  2. As a supporter of private schools I have to say many Charter schools I have encountered are designed around profit. I have observed poor education standards, very limited knowledge of the education system, and little concern about standards for their students. The concept behind charter schools was a good one but the abuse it let in generally outweighs any benefits received. They are drain on the taxpayers wallet. This is not to say there aren’t some great charter schools out there look at Union County Magnet School they are a really good set of schools but then balance that with all the “technology” schools that have no more technology then a computer lab and the word technology in their name. It is embarrassing how our state has let these charter schools just pop-up when some businessman sees the possibility of making a buck.

    • UCMHS and the other magnet schools on the campus are not charter schools. They are public schools of a county district rather than a local our municipal district. They have all the accountability of public schools; charter schools do not.

      • Charter schools DO have the exact same accountability as traditional district schools. The problem is, no one understands this and no one is really holding them accountable (including the DoE charter office).

        I am a proponent of “good schools” — be they charter, traditional, private, sectarian.

  3. Thank you for your opinion and informative perspective on the CACCS
    Mr. Rutherford. I attended the CACCS meet/greet, q&a open house recently. Interesting and impressive as to what they claim they will provide but with anything one must be cautious and do research before deciding if this is the place for a child.

    However let’s look at the larger picture, (WHAT IS PLAINFIELD DOING FOR OUR KIDS)? We voted in new faces and we are praying for a change. The children in this town need parents/leaders/teachers/educators/administrators who are about the business of educating our children. Our numbers-scores continue to show we are lacking and failing. So as we give opinions on the Charter school evolution we need to 1st get our house in order in Plainfield. Throwing daggers because someone is coming in our backyard ruffling our feathers isn’t cool but what it should do is make the city stand up and re-assess these public schools. We are not where we should be in our city. I have a 9 yr. in the public system and I can only say I have NOT been impressed and or satisfied with what she has received academically. Sadly it now pushes me to make a decision to leave this city. We pay HIGH taxes and we don’t see enough being given back to the schools (students). We are not up to par in comparison to neighboring towns and their scores reach a 90 percentile rate. They are more advance in their Technology, Science and Math areas, while we keep begging for the district to upgrade these schools.

    So while we may not want to have Mr. Piscal-CACCS or other charter schools in our neighborhood, parents are looking for a resolution something better and if our public schools can’t meet up to the standards and criteria that the parents are asking for, then it forces parents to try something new. We can’t afford and don’t want someone to rob us from outside, we already feel that pain now. Plainfield is plagued with financial problems just like Mr. Piscal. This is my opinion!

  4. David, if you can get the plain old Plainfield schools running well, and delivering a high quality of education, we would not have to worry about charter schools here.

    I say “you” because I have not seen much progress with those who have been on the BOE for years. For whatever reason, we continue to be a sub standard school system. No pressure, just fix it (lol)

    Thank you, David, for all you do for Plainfield.

  5. Michael Piscal is attempting to open a Charter School in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Where Asbury Park Public Schools and citizens of the community do not need a corrupt con-man preying on the city’s parents and children giving them empty promises that he will he never ever be able to fullfill. Los Angeles and Las Vegas still want to know where all the Charter School money went Michael Piscal??? PARENTS BEWARE, DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!! DO NOT SEND YOUR CHILD TO MICHAEL PISCAL’s COLLEGE ACHIEVE of ASBURY PARK, NEW JERSEY. Asbury Park Public schools have increased their test scores and have many programs that a Charter School cannot ever offer.

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