For nearly half a decade, Escambia Charter School hired out a group of students to cut roadside grass and weeds during class time for about 32 hours per week.
The privately run high school made about $200,000 by paying the children less than required under a state Department of Transportation contract. Meanwhile, it continued accepting tax money from the state Department of Education to teach the children five hours a day.
Until state prosecutors investigated complaints from teachers at the campus north of Pensacola, the falsifying of attendance records, course schedules and grade reports went unchecked.
Even after pleading no contest to grand theft, the school remains open. No more than 12 percent of its students have ever been able to read at grade level, test scores show…
The student work crews started at Escambia Charter in 1999. Stan Callender, the school's chief executive officer, signed a $250,000 contract with the Transportation Department to tend roadside grass and weeds in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.
Callender and Principal Jerome Chisolm devised a plan that called for a group of students to work eight hours per day, Monday through Thursday, for up to 15ƒ|weeks during school hours, according to state investigators.
The contract paid $16.25 for each hour a teen worked. The school, however, gave the students only $10 an hour, prosecutors said.
That meant the school collected about $40,000 a year from the student labor.
The administrators presented the program to charter-board members and county school-district officials as on-the-job training, investigators said.Each week, however, Escambia sent false attendance records to the school district showing students were in class, investigators found. Report cards falsely showed that the work-crew members completed the courses…
State investigators amassed enough evidence to charge Escambia with one count of organized fraud, a felony, in April 2004.
Thomas said the criminal charge helped him negotiate an end to the student-labor abuses. The road crews were restructured into proper on-the-job training programs. Students attended class the required five hours per day. Grade and attendance reports were no longer falsified.
But Callender, whom state investigators identified as the mastermind of the scheme, remained in charge at the school. Thomas said there was little he could do, because charter governing boards have authority over staff matters…
Escambia Charter School
CASHING IN ON THE KIDS: EVEN AFTER PLEADING NO CONTEST TO GRAND THEFT, SCHOOL REMAINS OPEN, March 27, 2007, The Orlando (FL) Sentinel