In February 2011, after a decade of dismal performance, the New Millennium charter school in west Fresno turned to Dr. Ernie Smith for help...As he dug in, Smith said he was unprepared for the sheer level of dysfunction he encountered at New Millennium -- and the hands-off attitude of Fresno Unified...
Students were coming and going in an independent study program that lacked even the pretense of accounting, Smith said. The program was so poorly run that the publicly funded school was having to pay back nearly $1 million in ADA (Average Daily Attendance) money to the state because of administrative lapses.There was no central record keeping, Smith said. Instead, student transcripts and other files were tossed into boxes. The school had gone through seven principals and superintendents over a nine-year span. The oversight was so lax that counselors were receiving paychecks and not coming to work.Among the no-shows was Cal Johnson, a trustee on the Fresno Unified School Board who is paid $3,600 a month to act as a "crisis counselor" at New Millennium.Johnson skipped work for weeks at a time even as he was attending school board meetings..."It was more than a mess," Smith said. "The entire staff seemed to be friends or relatives of each other. It was a nest of nepotism..."The school -- and there is no easy way to say this -- is not providing an adequate education for the kids who go there," Smith said. "Instead, it's become a cash cow for a handful of people. And Fresno Unified is sitting on its duff and not doing anything about it."...More than two dozen interviews with former teachers, administrators and community leaders, as well as a review of hundreds of pages of official documents, detail a decade-long pattern of a charter school repeatedly violating state education codes and a school district unwilling to hold it accountable. Each violation by the school, each broken promise to clean up its act ended with Fresno Unified giving New Millennium another chance..."There aren't any benchmarks at New Millennium," said Sanchez, who worked at the school for nearly a decade, rising up the ranks to lead teacher. "The teachers are winging it. They have no way to assess students."Fresno Unified has let the school off the hook. It hasn't done its oversight."In an interview last week, Brown says the school is doing its job, and that Smith, Sanchez and Biedermann simply are nursing a grudge."There is nobody bringing up issues except these three disgruntled former employees," he said. "All of their statements are not factual."...But Smith and other critics say the charter school, whose enrollment has fluctuated from 200 to 500 students, should have been shut down years ago.In a confidential report to the Fresno Unified School Board in July 2009, the district's charter review team found that the school was failing to provide students with an adequate education. The report noted that the school was continuing to violate numerous terms of its operating agreement with Fresno Unified -- clear grounds for revocation under state education law...
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“Troubled New Millennium charter school keeps getting second chances.” Fresno Bee (CA), 9/16/2012
(h/t to the Fresno State journalism students who wrote this piece)