About 30 employees of Capitol High Academy woke up Friday morning to find they weren’t getting paid like they thought they were.
That launched a series of phone calls to the 100 Black Men Charter School Initiative, which has held the charter for the small high school since 2008.
Steve Gantz, an 11th-grade social studies teacher at Capitol this past year, said he heard from several fellow teachers Friday and they’re all upset.
“We worked hard for our money, and we feel we deserve to get paid as per our contracts,” Gantz said. “That’s the way all of us feel.”
Winston Decuir Jr., president of the board of directors for the charter school, promised that the teachers will get the money they were supposed to receive by check on Friday and Tuesday. He said he hopes that will occur by the end of July, but he can’t say exactly when.
“It’s not that we’re not going to pay our teachers,” Decuir said. “It’s that the money we’re going to use to pay them was held up because of Edison, whom we fired.”
The 100 Black Men Charter School Initiative — its board includes many members of the 100 Black Men of Baton Rouge, but includes other individuals connected with Capitol High — severed its contract with the for-profit giant EdisonLearning in February, claiming financial mismanagement of the school.
In May, the 100 Black Men Charter School Initiative went further and returned its charter to the state; that charter ended June 30. The state-run Recovery School District is planning to operate the high school when it reopens next month.
“Our financial projections were such that we could not operate a school, at least not in a manner that would be productive for students,” Decuir said.
On June 16, Decuir sent a letter to all of Capitol High’s employees informing them of the coming change of management. The letter said the charter school group would cease paying employee benefits June 30, but was silent on the pay. It told employees that if they wanted to keep their jobs, they’d have to reapply to the RSD.
Teachers, however, have employment contracts that started in August and end July 31. Gantz said he and other teachers have assumed that their contracts were still in effect and that they would get their last two July paychecks.
Decuir said the root of the problem is that EdisonLearning has failed to provide New Orleans auditor Sean Bruno with documentation for many of its expenses, Decuir said, making Bruno unable to complete the school’s 2009-2010 audit.
That audit, due months ago, has yet to be turned in. By law, the state Department of Education quit processing reimbursement requests for between $400,000 and $600,000 that the charter school would have otherwise received by now, Decuir said.
“It has caused a cash flow problem with our last payroll,” Decuir said.
Decuir said Bruno plans on Monday to submit a “qualified” audit, absent the EdisonLearning documentation. Decuir said Bruno has been working with the state legislative auditor and expects the legislative auditor will accept the audit.
Once it’s accepted, that clears the way for the state Department of Education to pay the money owed to the charter school, Decuir said. When he gets notice from the state, Decuir said, he plans to send a letter to Capitol employees telling them when they’re going to get their final paychecks.
Gantz said teachers deserve the money they’re owed because Capitol High’s standardized test scores improved compared with the year before in most subjects.
“The numbers, they’re not spectacular, but we showed improvement,” he said.
Decuir agreed that Capitol High teachers are to be commended. In the June 16 letter, he wrote something similar.
“As you know, this past school year Capitol had tremendous gains in its test scores, which were exclusively due to your work,” he wrote.