Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 7

Illustration by Sean Wang

a satire by Christopher Paslay

When beloved high school principal Dominic Rossetti is forced to open a charter school so his uncle Tony, an organized crime boss, can embezzle the money to fund a strip club, Dom is thrown into a humorous yet tragic situation: he is compelled to run his uncle’s bogus charter school while trying to educate Philadelphia’s children.

Part 7 of 25

The Kid’s World Peace Charter High School application got approved by the State Board of Education and the Philadelphia Unified School District School Board exactly one week after the Kid had submitted the proposal; they was granted a three-year charter, not a five-year, so they would have to get a renewal in 2015.  This stunned the Kid like you wouldn’t believe, cause he’d done everything he could—without Tony catching on—to sink the whole thing.  Tony was on the Kid like a hawk, though, which is prob’ly why the Kid took care a business in the end.  Getting the approval was still no cake walk, even though Tony knew lots a people; the Kid wrote in his journal that it was actually kinda nerve-wracking.  Part a the charter application process involved appearing before the School Board and defending the proposal once the Board had the chance to review it, answering a buncha questions from all sorts a community stakeholders . . . parents, clergy, educational advocates, and other such jag-offs.  Before the Kid went in to defend his proposal, Tony had a word wit him inside the Gorilla’s Cadillac in the parking lot a the School District’s central office, where the School Board meeting was taking place.  Tony made it clear that failure wasn’t an option, that he had pulled lots a strings to make this happen, and that the Kid had better not frig it up.

“Just remember what I told you about famb’ly looking out for each other,” Tony said to the Kid, who was sitting in the back a the car in between me and Tony.  “Now you go in there and just do what you know how to do, and everything will be fine.  You’s a smart man, Dominic.  Don’t let them get ya frazzled.  Some a Al Akbar’s people is gonna be there, and you know all about that greedy prick sonnavabitch.  His guys was all set to get their charter approved, get their meat hooks on our money, but not no more.  This is ours for the taking, kid.  We earned this.  Come here.  Give your uncle Tony a hug and kiss for good luck.”

The Kid was in and out of the meeting in under an hour, and the rubber stamps was flying.  Bango, charter approved.  Barry Al Akbar’s people was livid, and so was Al Akbar hisself, who actually had the brass balls to show up at the School Board meeting even though it was a conflict of interest the size of a John Holmes hard on.  According to the Kid, he stood up in the middle a the crowded room, put his hands on his hips, and started storming around mumbling under his breath he couldn’t believe it, that people was gonna lose their jobs over this, just you wait and see; Al Akbar’s Achievement Kings, Inc., hadda watch five new charters get approved over theirs, one a them being the Kid’s, who was an, ah, newcomer in the game and seemed to be stepping on a buncha people’s toes.

Course, Tony was happy as a friggin clam, knowing he was gonna finally get the cash he needed to get his Baltimore project rolling.  Tony was still the silent partner, and the whole thing still seemed to be flying under the radar, as they say.  The education section of the Philadelphia Post reported the Kid’s World Peace Charter High School approval wit little . . . what’s the word . . . fanfare, and nobody but Tony and Barry Al Akbar and his cronies seemed to care.  The Kid, on the other hand, was freakin miserable.  It was hard enough to run Eisenhower High School by itself, dealing wit the craziness of the accreditation audits and all that, without having to deal wit Tony and his whole charter school scam.  Tony wouldn’t let it go, neither.  He had me and the Gorilla stay on the Kid and keep pressing him about the details, told us to get regular updates about how things was going wit the school and whatnot.  The biggest question, like I says before, was Tony’ money, and when he was gonna get it.

The answer to this question wasn’t that complicated, actually; all charters got their money on July 1st, the start a the new fiscal year.  The Kid needed to have two things before the Philadelphia Unified School District would start to provide funding for the newly approved Word Peace Charter High School on July 1st: a budget, and target enrollment numbers.  There was a whole buncha other stuff they needed, like an instructional plan, and teachers, and curriculum, and books, and a building, but that stuff was just needed on paper and would come later on, after the city released the funds so Dom could pay for it all.  The key to getting the money, though, was the budget and the enrollment numbers.

Now, all this stuff was already submitted wit the charter application, but that was just an estimate, see.  The school district needed real stuff now, final figures and target numbers, cause they was gonna start parting wit all that cash and they needed to make sure they had the paperwork straight so the feds . . . you jack-offs . . . didn’t come in an audit them and start throwing people in jail and all that.  Now, before any a this stuff could get done, before any final budget and enrollment figures could be submitted to the School District, the Kid hadda form a Board of Trustees to approve and adopt everything.  On paper, on the charter application, there was the names a seven people who the Kid had picked to be his Board.  Course, people like me and Tony couldn’t be on it, not wit the last name Genitaglia, anyways, so the Kid hadda find seven regular folks who was professional and had good reputations and also had something to do wit education in some kinda way.  The Kid knew lots a people like this, but the only problem was, he didn’t wanna get them caught up in the scam, so he never asked any a them to get involved.  What the Kid ended up doing was putting seven names a seven fake people on the Board—wit fake job titles and credentials—and would worry about dealing wit this problem if and when the time came; the best thing about fake people was that they never gave you shit and always did just what they was told.

And guess what?  Surprise, surprise, surprise!  World Peace Charter High School’s Board of Trustees just so happened to approve the Kid’s final budget and target enrollment numbers, which was officially submitted to the School District a month into the new year.  The Board had decided to set a target enrollment of exactly one hundred students, all freshman, for the 2012-13 school year; on the charter application, the Kid said he would increase his enrollment every year by 100 until he had 400 students.  The math was perfect: 100 times $10,000 equaled Tony’s strip club $1,000,000.  Friggin beautiful.  The budget, though, wasn’t as easy to put together.  Like I says before, real people look at these numbers, and the School District might just pitch a fit if these numbers didn’t add up; worse still, a State or Federal audit might be in order.  That was the most important thing in public education, as I was being taught by the Kid: always make sure your paperwork is in order.

I don’t wanna bore you’s guys, so I won’t get into all the line-by-line items in the budget; I’ll just give you’s guys a . . . what’s the word . . . overview.  The Kid’s charter, like I says before, was approved as a cyber school, and this would save the Kid a lot a headaches and most importantly, a lotta cash-ola for Tony.  Wit a cyber school, see, you didn’t really need to worry about stuff like food service, and transportation, and safety, and health services, and a code a conduct, not really, not the way you did wit a real “brick and mortar” school, as they say.  Wit a cyber school, most a the classes and learning takes place on a computer at the student’s home, wit the student reading books online and answering questions and having these interactive “webinars”.  Webinars is kinda like a chat room where the students can talk wit other students online, and also wit the teacher, who is on the other end a their computer checking in on the students to see if they have questions or need help wit their studies.  When the Kid first told me about what cyber charters was like a hadda laugh, cause what kinda student is gonna lean by sitting at home every day on a computer . . . hanging out online wit their friends . . . supposedly reading and writing and doing whatever they is supposed to be doing.  Course, the P.A. State test scores showed that compared to all the other “brick and mortar” public schools in the state, cyber charters, um, perform the worst—their kids got some a the lowest math and reading scores in the state.  Makes sense, even to a dumb shit like me.

Course, it’s big business, and smart people like Tony Genitaglia knew it, which is why cyber charters keep opening up all over the place.  Anyways . . . what was I talking about . . . oh yeah, the budget stuff.  So cause the Kid’s charter was a cyber school, the main items in his budget was stuff like teachers and staff, curriculum, instructional materials, and, ah, liability insurance, I think.  And computers, too.  I can’t forget about that.  Computers was one a the biggest expenses beside the teachers and staff—the laptop computers.  Every student hadda have a school laptop in order to learn, and this hadda be issued to the student by the school.  On paper, the Kid budgeted $150,000 for 100 brand spanking new MacBook Pro laptops, which he could buy in bulk for around $15,000 a pop.  Then there was the $60,000 to pay the salary a the computer guy to run and set everything up, and to deal wit the maintenance issues and all that kinda bullshit.  And speaking a salaries, the Kid had budgeted $870,000 for six teachers, a secretary, a counselor, a principal, and a C.F.O.  The English, math, science, social studies, phys ed., and Spanish teachers was to get paid $45,000 a year plus $15,000 in health benefits, and so was the counselor; the principal would get paid $185,000 plus $15,000 in benny’s.  The CFO would get the same package as the principal, cause he would be running the books, including payroll and all the accounting stuff; these lopsided salaries was standard operating procedure for charters, so it wouldn’t raise no red flags.  The secretary . . . well, she could just put on her kneepads and play the skin-flute for the staff, free a charge.  Course, when I made this joke to the Kid he got all serious and says to me, “Uncle Manny, you have no idea how important a good secretary is when you’re trying to run a school.”  So the Kid paid the imaginary “secretary” $35,000 plus health care.

The last big expense was the whatdoyacallit . . . the curriculum and instructional materials.  This is where those textbook company criminals raped you, gouging working people by charging an arm and a leg for the license to use their stuff.  The Kid decided to hire a cyber curriculum specialist called Cyber Sultans, Inc., or at least to put their company name down on the budget.  You’s guys ever hear a these Cyber Sultan jag-offs?  Friggin criminals, let me tell ya.  They talk a friggin good game, sure, but this one time the Kid actually showed me the kinda product these charlatans is selling, and let me say this, these pricks might as well just walk around wit a ski mask and a gun for all the money they is stealing.  The, um, advertisement on their website is something like, Cyber Sultans: Data Driven Cyber Curriculum for the 21st Century.  Data driven my friggin left nut.  Forgetaboutit.  I may not understand mission statements and whatnot, but it was easy to see that the Cyber Sultans instructional approach . . . using social media to make learning fun . . . was a buncha malarkey.  The Kid only hadda pay $100,000 for the license—a cool $1,000 per student.  This included all the electronic books and workbooks, homework assignments, tests, discussion questions, and project topics for all six subjects.

This was all just on paper, though.  No one was gonna get anything, not the teachers, or the principal, or the computer or finance guy, or even the Cyber Sultans, cause it was just for show, see.  It was just to make the budget work, to fulfill the most important thing in 21st century public education: paperwork.  See, I listened to the Kid when he talked to me, I know.  Plus, I read about it in his journal.  Now I know what you’s guys is thinking.  You’s thinking: How is the Kid gonna pull this off?  He’s gonna get caught and go to jail and lose his principal’s certificate, and then where will Eisenhower High School and all the poor colored children be then?  Well, that was the thing.  The Kid wanted to get caught, wanted the feds . . . you’s guys . . . to come and shut the whole thing down.  This is why the Kid kept writing everything in his journal—the one I’m holding in my hand right now—so he could document everything and show that from the very beginning, from the very start, he was innocent.  The Kid was extorted, see.  Extorted by my brother, Tony Genitaglia.  Is it all starting to make sense to you’s guys now?  The Kid wanted to get caught, wanted the feds to find and lock up his no good piece a shit uncle who prob’ly killed Dom Sr., see?

In . . . what’s the word . . . hindsight, this might not have been such a good idear.  The Kid and the girl may be dead, may be a pile of ash; when you’s guys check the dental records, I guess we’ll know.  And stop, just wait a minute, cause I know there’s another question just burning in your mind, and that’s How was there a building if the school was a cyber charter?  Good question, cause that’s what I thought at first when the Kid told me we hadda get a building for the cyber school.  And here’s the answer: There was a building, cause there hadda be.  It was in the rules, the, ah, State charter school bylaws.  Even cyber charters hadda have a building to serve as a headquarters for meetings and assemblies and periodic tests, for classes and counseling sessions wit the students and faculty staff.  And this part, having a real building, you couldn’t fake or make up, at least it would be harder to pull off.  Once a month, during the periodic tests and classes and counseling sessions, the State Department of Education and the Philadelphia Unified School District was gonna come in and observe and poke around to see if everything was working the way it was supposed to.  They was gonna come in and audit the books, too, which was supposed to be kept at this headquarters at all times.  At first the Kid had no idear how he was gonna get around this part, but deep down he didn’t really care.

Like I says before, he wanted to get caught and to see his criminal murdering uncle put in prison where he belonged.

_______

In the New Year, in the winter of 2012 after the he submitted his World Peace Charter School budget to the Philadelphia Unified School District for approval, the Kid was able to put more a his time into what he truly loved doing, which was being the principal a Eisenhower High School.  By now the Kid had hoped Eisenhower would be accredited by the Eastern Association of Academics and Schools, but on the very last audit—the final step in the whole back-breaking accreditation process—the Kid dropped the ball.  Course, the Kid didn’t drop the ball, my jag-off brother Tony did.  See, Tony didn’t wanna wait until July 1st to get his million bucks for his Baltimore titty club, he wanted it now, today; patience wasn’t one a his, ah, virtues.  Right around Valentine’s Day of 2012, Tony did something he hardly never does: he called the Kid up personally on his cellphone to tell the Kid that he needed $100,000 of his strip club money ASAP.

“I’ll send the Gorilla over to your place tomorrow to get it,” Tony told the Kid.  “I got this thing and it can’t wait.”  This was all written down in the Kid’s journal, nearly word for word, by the way.

The Kid knew this was impossible, cause the new financial year didn’t start for over four months, and the charter wouldn’t get the money from the PUSD until at least July 1st.  So the Kid says, “Uncle Tony, we’re not getting any money until the summer.”

“What?  The summer?  Says who?”

“Says the people giving us all the money, the funds.”

“I can’t wait till the summer, Dominic.  I told you that.  I got this thing and it can’t wait.”

“There’s nothing I can do about it, uncle Tony.  The financial year doesn’t start until—”

“Forget the financial year!  I need that cash!”  There was a pause on the phone, and Tony tried to get his cool again.  “Who the frig are these people, huh?  What are their names?”

“It’s the School District, Uncle Tony,” the Kid says.  “The School Board.  The same people who approved our charter.  They’re not trying to keep anything from us, it’s just the way things work.  The law says the financial year doesn’t start until July 1st, so we can’t get the money until then, until the new school year begins.”

“The law,” Tony says, and spits.  “Friggin cocker-roaches.  Fine.  Whatever.  Just get me a $100,000 advance on the million, and we’ll wait till July for the rest.”

“They don’t give advances.  It doesn’t work like that.”

“Jesus friggin Christ!”  Tony was breathing heavy into the phone.  “Ya know, I oughta take a baseball bat to one a these prick’s heads, and then we’ll see about all this financial year bullshit.  What kinda friggin scumbags are these, huh?  These School District pricks got a million dollars of my money just sitting in some bank account till July 1stForgetaboutit.  I can’t wait that long.  I need that money, today.”

“There’s nothing I can do, Uncle Tony,” the Kid says.

“What’s the matter wit you, huh?  Are we famb’ly or not?  Am I your uncle Tony?”

“Yeah, but—”

“Did I not bail your friggin ass outta jail a coupla months ago and keep you from losing your friggin job?”

“Yeah I know but—”

“But nothing!” Toney says.  “Now you listen to me, Dominic.  You better get me $100,000 of my money by the end a the week, or you might just turn out like your old man.  Now, you is my nephew, my little sister Theresa’s kid, so I’m gonna give you a coupla days.  I love you cause you is famb’ly.  But business is still business, and a got a reputation to keep.  So don’t disappoint me, got it?  Good!”

And that was it.  Tony hung up the phone and actually called me and said that if the Kid didn’t have his cash by Friday, I was to get the Gorilla and go bust the Kid up a bit.  I didn’t wanna do it, so I called Dom up later that night and tried to help him figure out a way to get Tony his money so my maniac brother would leave the Kid the hell alone.  Now, in Tony’s defense, he did need that money as soon as possible.  He was about to sign a sales agreement on a three story strip club on East Baltimore Street in the, ah, red light district in downtown Baltimore, and he needed $100,000 as a down payment and to buy the liquor license.  It was prime real estate as far as strip clubs went, right in the heart a “The Block.”  Like I says, you’s guys know how upscale and fancy the place was, and you wouldn’t believe how much time and effort Tony put into making Straight A’s what it was.  So when that property became available, along wit the liquor license, Tony hadda act.  He jumped on it and promised the owner he’d have the down payment in a week, staked his reputation on it.  He was Tony Genitaglia, after all.  He always came through.  And what was a man if he couldn’t back-up his word?

The Kid ended up giving Tony the money that Wednesday, two days early.  He took it outta Eisenhower High School’s budget, money that the Kid had set aside for hiring a new counselor and behavior specialist for the second semester to help improve discipline and teach anger management skills.  He listed it in the books as a “consulting fee,” even got a friend a his, who ran one a those educational consulting firms, to give him a phony receipt for, whatdoyacallit, services rendered . . . $100,000 in services; the sad part was, this was small potatoes when it came to the kinda fees these “consulting” firms was getting.  Course, the Kid would put the money back into Eisenhower’s budget in July, or at least that’s what his plan was; Jesus only knew if Tony would remember the money was advanced or even give a friggin hell and still want the whole million.

Anyways, this unplanned switch-a-rooney on Eisenhower’s books was enough to send up a red flag wit the accreditation folks, so the Kid didn’t pass his final audit.  The Eastern Association of Academics and Schools wrote in their report that the Kid’s finances and fiscal stability was in question, and didn’t meet all of EAAS’s standards, and, um, best practices.  Basically, Eisenhower’s accreditation was denied—no soup for you!—as they say in that Steinfeld show.  All wasn’t lost, though; the Kid would have another year end audit in June to see if he was meeting the EAAS standards.

Part 8

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