Palm Beach County public school leaders are moving to shut down Eagle Arts Academy, saying the controversy-plagued Wellington charter school is hemorrhaging money and that its executive director last year steered tens of thousands of dollars from the school into one of his companies amid the school’s financial woes.
Superintendent Robert Avossa has called for closing the school at the end of the school year, warning that it is in “deteriorating financial condition,” has not paid rent for its 13-acre campus since September and is spending “excessive” amounts on administrative salaries while its student enrollment falls.
Board members are scheduled to consider Avossa’s proposal Wednesday. If approved, the school board’s contract with the school, which opened in 2014, would end in June. (UPDATE: School board members voted unanimously Wednesday to give the school a 90-day notice of termination, meaning that it would be required to close if it can’t address the district’s concerns within that time period).
“There is ‘good cause’ that exists to proceed with a 90-day termination due to (Eagle Arts’) failure to meet generally accepted standards of fiscal management,” Avossa wrote in a Feb. 28 letter to the school.
The move to close the school comes after years of erratic enrollment, high turnover and financial controversies since the school opened on the campus of a former private school, promising students an arts-infused education.
A school district report also revealed a previously undisclosed financial arrangement: The school last year paid tens of thousands of dollars for “brand licensing” to a company owned by its executive director, Gregory James Blount.
Blount’s company, Element Management Group, drew the payments, which at one point totaled $6,000 a month, while he was also earning $90,000 a year as the school’s executive director.
Blount said that the payments were to compensate his company for the use of software that it designed.
“This software that runs the school was created by my company,” he wrote in an email to The Palm Beach Post. “All of this is legal.”
State records show that the company was created in July, the same month that the district says the payments from the school began.
Even though the school’s enrollment has dwindled from nearly 700 students last year to less than 450 this year, the school spends more than $200,000 a year paying an executive director and two principals, the school district said. The school resisted the school district’s request to trim its payroll to reflect its smaller size.
The school is also paying nearly $8,000 a month to another company, California-based Charter School Management Corp., for “business management services,” despite having a full-time executive director and its two principals, according to a school district report.
Reached for comment, Blount responded by providing a link to a YouTube video in which he calls on the school’s parents to pressure board members at Wednesday’s meeting to keep the school open.
In the video, he said that the school’s lease payments for its campus are the primary cause of its financial problems and that he is working to renegotiate the lease.
“It is definitely a challenge for us, and I am exploring all options to be able to meet the terms of the lease,” he said.
Blount has a history of steering money from the school into his own companies.
In a series of articles in 2015, The Post revealed that Blount had steered more than $150,000 from the school into his own companies, including $46,000 in payments that the school approved under the guise of a loan.
In 2016, Avossa ordered Blount to repay the $46,000 to the school. Later that year, Eagle Arts went through a period of extraordinary upheaval, as three principals resigned or were fired in a four-month period.
Last year, The Post recounted the months of tumult, which included teachers fleeing the school en masse and reports of classes with no textbooks or grades or consistent teachers. The school soldiered on, raising its state grade from a D to a C last year.
But its struggles to keep students enrolled have left it in the red. In addition to owing $1.1 million in rent payments this year, the school owes at least $89,000 in unpaid bills to vendors, the school district says.
The school district estimated that Eagle Arts would operate at an annual deficit of $1.2 million this year if allowed to remain open.
What The Post reported
In a series of articles, The Post revealed that Eagle Arts Academy’s founder, Gregory James Blount, steered more than $150,000 from the school into his own companies, including $46,000 that the school approved under the guise of a loan. The Post also documented extraordinary upheaval at the Wellington school in 2016, as three principals resigned or were fired in four months, teachers fled and some students sat in classrooms with no textbooks, grades or consistent teachers.