New Media Technology Charter School

A Philadelphia charter school fighting a unionizing effort is trying to break legal ground by contending that it is not a public school - even though it's funded entirely by taxpayers.

The move by New Media Technology Charter School, which receives more than $5 million in public money annually to educate 450 students, is drawn from the playbook of a charter in Chicago that is part of a controversial network of Turkish-run charter schools.

The Chicago Mathematics and Science Academy Charter School - one of 120 schools nationwide inspired by the teachings of Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen - asserted in papers filed with the National Labor Relations Board that it is not a public school or "a political subdivision" of the state of Illinois. If it prevails, it would be exempt from a state law that permits charter staff to unionize.

The full NLRB has not ruled on the matter, though the school lost a preliminary round when the regional director ruled that it was a public school overseen by the Chicago school district...

Several New Media teachers said they wanted to form a union to have a voice in the school's educational policies such as discipline and a lack of books and supplies without fear of reprisal. The teachers, who asked not to be named, described a school that has been "chaotically administered."

New Media, which enrolls students from grades 5 through 12 on campuses in Germantown and Stenton, has had a turbulent history since its founding in 2004.

Ina Walker, the former chief executive, and Hugh C. Clark, the former board president, were indicted by a federal grand jury in April and charged with stealing $522,000 in taxpayer funds partly to support a small private school they controlled, a health food restaurant, and a health food store...

Charter schools often balk at unionizing efforts, charging that negotiating contracts will erode the flexibility and experimentation upon which the schools were founded.

Nevertheless, staff at several of Pennsylvania's 135 charters and 12 cyber charters have succeeded in unionizing. Five city charters are represented by affiliates of AFT Pennsylvania...
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A federal grand jury has indicted two former top officials at a charter school in Northwest Philadelphia on charges of stealing $522,000 in taxpayer funds.

The 27-count indictment charges Hugh C. Clark, 64, and Ina M. Walker, 58, with conspiracy, wire fraud, and theft from a federally funded program, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger announced Thursday.

The pair, both from Philadelphia, allegedly used the money slated for New Media charter school to pay expenses at Lotus Academy, a small private school they controlled; to fund personal businesses, including the Black Olive health-food store and the Black Olive restaurant in Mount Airy; and for personal expenses, including meals and credit-card bills, Memeger said.

The indictments, which were unsealed Thursday, came nearly two years after The Inquirer first reported allegations of fiscal mismanagement and conflicts of interest at the school, which has campuses in the Stenton and Germantown neighborhoods...

New Media is the fourth Philadelphia charter school in recent years whose administrators or board members have faced federal fraud charges. And the school is among at least 18 area charter schools that have come under federal investigation since 2008, sources have said...

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PHILADELPHIA—An indictment was unsealed today charging Hugh C. Clark and Ina M. Walker with conspiracy, wire fraud, and theft from a federally funded program based on their roles in defrauding the Philadelphia based New Media Technology Charter School ("New Media"), announced United States Attorney Zane David Memeger.

The 27-count indictment charges that Clark, the former president of the board, and Walker, the former CEO, improperly used approximately $522,000 in New Media funds to enrich themselves and advance their personal interests. According to the charges, Clark and Walker stole from New Media, a charter school funded with federal tax dollars, to (a) pay expenses at a small private school they controlled, Lotus Academy (b) advance their personal business ventures, including the Black Olive health food store and the Black Olive restaurant, and (c) pay personal expenses. In addition, defendant Clark allegedly diverted substantial funds from New Media and Lotus Academy to benefit Tekhen, a web design and Internet access company he owned and controlled.

The indictment charges that Clark and Walker diverted at least $309,000 in fraudulent payments directly to Lotus Academy, which were often disguised as prepaid rent or bogus security deposits. Once the funds were deposited into Lotus Academy bank accounts, the defendants allegedly spent the money on the expenses of their private school, and on their personal and business ventures.

In addition, defendants Clark and Walker allegedly used approximately $213,000 of New Media's money to pay third parties for expenses for Lotus Academy, the Black Olive business ventures, Tekhen, and personal expenses. The indictment alleges that the defendants often disguised these payments by adding additional expenses to existing New Media expenses. For example, the indictment charges that Clark and Walker used New Media funds to hire and pay a contractor for the purpose of creating and preparing the Black Olive health food store for opening. Although the contractor had an office at the New Media middle school, the contractor did not teach students or have any legitimate function in the New Media middle school, it is alleged. Similarly, the indictment charges that defendant Clark hired a marketing contractor to provide marketing services to New Media, Lotus Academy, the Black Olive business ventures, and another restaurant in which Clark and Walker had an ownership interest. Clark and Walker allegedly paid the marketing contractor with New Media's funds.

Further, the indictment charges that defendant Clark, without notice to or approval from the New Media board of directors, entered New Media into a written contact to purchase a school property for the sole purpose of benefitting Lotus Academy. Defendants Clark and Walker allegedly used $15,000 of New Media's funds as part of the $45,000 deposit for purchase of the school property. When the sale did not close and the $45,000 deposit was returned to Lotus Academy, defendants Clark and Walker never returned the $15,000 to New Media, it is alleged. Rather, Clark and Walker allegedly caused the entire $45,000 to be spent in various ways, including for Lotus Academy expenses (rent and payroll), payments to the Black Olive business ventures, and a cash deposit into defendant Walker's personal bank account to pay Walker's personal bills.

It is alleged that Clark and Walker spent New Media funds on additional "joint" expenses with Lotus Academy, such as two annual awards banquets at a Philadelphia hotel, and two overnight staff retreats to Ocean City, Maryland. New Media allegedly covered all of these costs without reimbursement by Lotus Academy.

The indictment alleges that Clark and Walker caused New Media to pay utility expenses for Lotus Academy and the Black Olive business ventures including a July, 2009 payment of $3,617.29 to PECO pay the overdue PECO bill for Black Olive health food store. It is also alleged that Clark spent New Media funds to pay two different vendors for Clark's personal business, Tekhen Communications. According to the indictment, defendant Clark caused New Media to pay a Tekhen vendor, Hivelocity Ventures, not just for web domains and services that Hivelocity provided to New Media, but also for web domains and services for Lotus Academy, Black Olive, Tekhen, and Hugh Clark's law firm, Clark and McGill. The indictment also alleges that defendant Clark caused New Media to pay a different Tekhen vendor, Dialup U.S.A., which provided no services to New Media. New Media was never reimbursed for these costs, it is alleged.

According to the indictment, as a result of the improper and fraudulent payments directed by Clark and Walker, New Media failed to pay legitimate New Media expenses. For example, from December, 2007 through February, 2009, New Media failed to remit the required monthly employee withholdings and quarterly employer contributions to the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System. PSERS is the defined benefit retirement plan for public school employees of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. From October, 2006 through November, 2008, New Media carried a past-due balance with one of its primary textbook vendors, it is alleged. On several occasions, there were allegedly insufficient funds in New Media's bank account to cover employee payroll checks. According to the indictment, in Spring of 2009, coaches for New Media's athletic teams remained unpaid or partially paid.

Information Regarding the Defendants

Hugh C. Clark
Ina M. Walker

If convicted of all charges, Clark and Walker each face a substantial term of imprisonment, three years' supervised release, a $6,750,000 fine, and a $2,700 special assessment.

The case was investigated by the United States Department of Education - Office of Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The School District of Philadelphia's Office of Inspector General provided assistance in the investigation. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Joan E. Burnes.
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OFF THE CHARTS: CHARTER-SCHOOL PROBES EXPAND, August 16, 2009, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Aug. 16--What began as a complaint from a couple of moms more than 18 months ago has mushroomed into a widening federal investigation of at least five Philadelphia-area charter schools, calling into question spending controls and management oversight in this burgeoning alternative to traditional public schools.

Federal authorities are adding resources to the probe, and people familiar with the matter say New Media Technology Charter School, which has campuses in the city's Stenton and Germantown neighborhoods, is the latest charter targeted for spending irregularities and conflicts of interest…

More recently, federal investigators turned their attention to the New Media Technology Charter School amid allegations that school money had been used to pay some expenses of a private school, a restaurant, and a health-food store, according to sources with knowledge of the inquiry. All have ties to New Media's leadership…

1 comment:

Chef Binta M. Edwards said...

Hugh Clark is a thief and a liar, Stole from me and I hope he serves his time!