LEAP Academy University Charter School

When Camden's LEAP Academy University Charter School compelled its new food-service management company to retain the school's executive chef and give him a $24,000 raise, LEAP also had to pay a $151,428 penalty to its previous vendor, documents show.

Including Michele Pastorello's new $95,000 salary, LEAP has spent nearly $250,000 this school year to keep him employed as executive chef. The position typically pays about $40,000, according to industry experts.

Pastorello is the live-in boyfriend of LEAP founder and board chairwoman Gloria Bonilla-Santiago. His raise, as well as the fee paid to the previous management company, Aramark, now are under review by the school's board of trustees...

“Lawsuit is another blow to Camden's LEAP Academy.” Philadelphia Inquirer (PA), 2/2/2013

In addition to LEAP Academy University Charter School’s financial woes, the school has been hit was a lawsuit alleging misappropriation of school and scholarship money.

The lawsuit filed in January by LEAP employee Mark Paoli, who served as the school facilities manager for 12 years before being demoted in May, alleges LEAP founder and board chair Gloria Bonilla-Santiago “routinely demanded that he perform work on her home while on LEAP Academy time and using LEAP Academy, tools, equipment and supplies...”

Bonilla-Santiago denied all allegations in a statement...

Founded in 1997, LEAP is one of Camden's more prominent charter schools, with a large downtown campus. In August, LEAP will open a new 60-student high school that will focus on science, technology, engineering, and math, and a new K-3 school. LEAP Lower School (K-6) and LEAP Upper School (7-12) are one block apart on Cooper Street.

But the school has recently faced scrutiny from the state for mismanagement of federal money. And just last month, it was publicly reported that LEAP  (as well as Camden Pride Charter School) had lost its tax-exempt status from the IRS in 2010 for failure to file tax forms for three consecutive years...

LEAP Academy ends basketball episode.” The Star-Ledger (NJ), 6/14/2007 

LEAP Academy University Charter School has given up a costly battle over enrollment practices that netted out-of-state basketball players and ran afoul of state law. And the coach at the heart of the recruitment scandal will not return in September, according to a report in the Courier Post.

State Education Commissioner Lucille Davy had found LEAP violated laws that govern charter programs by giving admissions preference to out-of-state athletes over Camden students.

The charter school's trustees decided in May not to appeal Davy's ruling to the state Appellate Division. The Rutgers-based program spent nearly $55,000 on the legal fight.

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