Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 12

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 12 of 25

On Monday, July 9th, 2012, Tony’s charter got its money; the Kid called me on the phone and told me everything.  In a bank account opened in the name of a phony charter, controlled by a phony C.E.O. and operated by an imaginary Board of Trustees, was deposited the sum of $1,187,071—the budget for World Peace Charter High School for the 2012-13 school year.  Crazy shit, huh?

Yeah, well, Tony was in friggin hog heaven when he heard the news.  He thought he was only getting a cool million, so the extra $187,000 was an added surprise.  At first the Kid wasn’t gonna tell Tony about it—he figured he’d skim the extra cash off the top so he could put it back into Eisenhower’s budget, where it was badly needed—but Tony, see, he wasn’t having any a that, no friggin way.  See, Tony wanted to see the actual approved budget for World Peace Charter, line by line.  Tony might not a had a high school diploma, but he was a master criminal, and he didn’t come down on the last drop a rain, as they say . . . at least not when it came to money, his money.

I was sent to pick the Kid up wit the, whatchamacallit, itemized budget and bring him to Tony’s mansion for a meeting.  When we got there, just like the last time, Tony was sitting in his big leather chair behind his desk in his office watching his giant 10 foot flat screen TV, a lit cigar in his mouth, a glass a whisky in his hand.

“Hey, come here and give your uncle Tony a big hug, will ya!” Tony says when he sees the Kid.  “Ya did good, Dominic.  Real good.  Here, have a drink a whisky.  You want a cigar?”

“I don’t smoke, uncle Tony.”

“No?  Okay.  How about a shot, then?  Do a shot wit your uncle to celebrate.”

“I don’t really drink either, uncle Tony.”

Tony looked like he was offended.  “Ah, forgetaboutit.  This is a special day, and ya did good, and you’s gonna celebrate and have a drink wit me.”

“The kid doesn’t drink no more, Tony,” I says, “and neither do I.  Remember?  We’re in recovery.”

“What’s a matter wit you’s, huh?  Recovery?  Forgetaboutit.  You’re here wit me now, this is Tony talking.  Here, have a friggin drink wit me before I give the both a you a beating.”

I took the glass a whiskey just to shut my jackass brother the frig up.  The Kid did, too.

“Salud, kid,” Tony says, and gulps his shot in one big swallow.  Me and the Kid just toss ours real quick right over our shoulders.  We all slam our empty glasses down on Tony’s desk.

“Ahhhh,” Tony says.  “Burrrr.  That’ll put some hair on ya chest.”  He puffs his nasty friggin cigar and spits a piece a tobacco off his tongue.  “So, let’s see this budget thingamajig.  Where’s the papers at?  I wanna count my money.”

The Kid takes out World Peace Charter High School’s budget, which was only five pages long.  He leans over Tony’s shoulder and the two go over it, line by freakin line.  Like I says before, most a the money was going to teachers’ salaries and benefits, computer equipment, and the license to use the cyber curriculum.  There was a few other things in there, like rent, utilities, building maintenance and whatnot, but nothing major.  It was a real learning experience for me watching the Kid explaining the budget, I gotta admit.  The District was giving Tony’s charter almost 1.2 million bucks, which in comparison to the Philadelphia Unified School District entire 2.7 billion budget, was friggin small potatoes.  Course, if ya think that’s a lotta cash, it ain’t nothing compared to the State education budget of almost $12 billion, or total federal education spending, which I think was around $130 billion in 2012.

“So bring me it in cash,” Tony is saying to the Kid.  “No checks and shit like that, I can’t have this traced to me.  But you ain’t stupid, kid.  I know you know what you’s doing.”

The Kid was getting mad now, I could see it in his face.  He was tired a being bullied by my brother Tony.  But what could he do, ya know?  What could the Kid really do?

“You want it all in cash?” the Kid says.

“Yeah, cash.  You gotta problem wit that or something?”

“How am I supposed to get it here, all that cash?”

“Hello?  What, is you friggin stupid or something?  Put it in a bag like you did before, in a duffle bag.”

“A duffle bag, uncle Tony?”

“Yeah, a friggin duffle bag.  A nice leather one.”  Tony reaches into his pocket and pulls out a money roll in a gold clip.  “Here, here’s some friggin money for you so you’s can get a nice big duffle bag.  Jesus friggin Christ, kid.  It ain’t rocket science.”

The Kid took the money—$200 in fifties—and put it in his wallet.

“You’re welcome,” Tony says.  “Where are your friggin manners, kid.  Now take that friggin money and buy a nice duffle bag to stick my million bucks in.  And stop looking so sad, you little spoiled prick.  You should be proud.  We just opened a charter school to help kids, right?  You like helping kids, don’t ya?”

The Kid just nodded his head.

“Good.  Now get the frig outta here, the two a you, before I give the both a you a beating.”

_______

The Kid didn’t end up giving Tony his million bucks in a big leather duffle bag, that just wasn’t gonna work.  Instead, Dom ended up contacting Sal DiSimone, the famb’ly lawyer, and giving the money to Tony through him.  Dom wrote in his journal that this, um, transaction was so easy it was scary.  All he hadda do was go down to the bank where the World Peace Charter High School account was set up wit two forms of ID, and as the sole controller a the account . . . he had the power to withdraw funds, after all . . . simply request a certified bank check payable to Sal DiSimone, Enterprises, for a sum of $1,086, 071; the Kid hadda leave $1,000 in the account so it wouldn’t close.  From there he simply gave this nifty little paper check to Sal, who put it in the account he had set up for Straight A’s, of which Sal was a partner.  Bango—that simple.

In a way, the Kid was relived the deed as done.  He wrote in his journal that he was super pissed about the whole thing, that at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, he was gonna have the balls to confront Tony about the whole thing, but not just yet.  There would come a time, the Kid wrote, when a line would be crossed—when the Kid’s anger or courage or both would, um, overpower his fear, and then he would end all of it.  Just end it quick and cleanly like they says in the Steinfeld show on TV about taking off a Band-Aid—boom, right off.  The Kid would do that someday.  Still, he was relived Tony had his money, that my overbearing prick-of-a-brother was off his friggin back for a bit.

That July the Kid put all his effort into going to meetings and working at Eisenhower, getting the building ready for the next school year.  He had it cleaned real good, and some parts repainted, and went through all the rooms from top to bottom, including the supply closets and book rooms.  That nonsense that went on at Langston Hughes Elementary, where there was entire rooms filled wit stacks a textbooks and piles a broken computer parts—well, the Kid didn’t stand for that B.S. at his school, not a chance in hell.  Everything in Eisenhower was organized and accounted for—every freakin thing.  Dom used to talk about that at meetings wit me all the time, how big-ass school districts in big-ass cities like Filthy-delphia was so giant that all kinds a stuff got lost in the cracks; the Kid said there was lots a waste.

Not at Eisenhower, though.  That summer Dom and a team of about six volunteers . . . the younger teachers who was all enthused and wanted to help out for free . . . they went around the building, room by room, and organized and recorded everything, starting wit the textbooks.  Now, most a this stuff was organized and recorded already from the year before, so all they hadda do was just update stuff and fix it up a bit.  The Kid said these rooms was like a library where some a the books wasn’t put back in the right place, or a store where people tried on clothes and just threw them wherever—that’s the kinda stuff they hadda deal wit.  After a year a this, though, things could get out a whack.  Things could get broken or stolen this way.  Even worse, they could get lost or misplaced, making Dom buy a new one only to find it later and realize he’d just wasted a buncha money.

Dom liked doing this stuff, he said.  Cleaning and making order outta disorder was fun for the Kid, very . . . what’s the word . . . Zen-like.  It was good energy and such.  It gave things the, ah, proper flow.  So he did this kinda stuff all of July, cleaned and organized the school, removed graffiti, had the grass cut weekly, worked in the zucchini garden, made schedules, rosters, tweaked up the curriculum.  He accounted for every penny in Eisenhower’s budget—he was even tighter wit his cash than his uncle Tony—stretched every dollar as far as it could go.  See, the Kid used to be a teacher, and he knew the system from top to bottom.  He knew what he needed and didn’t need, knew what went directly to the classroom to improve the students educations, and what was simply what he called dog and pony show bull crap.

Like paper, for example.  Paper was like gold at the school, cause teachers used it like crack cocaine.  There was this notion started by someone somewhere that paper was bad, see, that all it was used for was meaningless worksheets for the students, and that if you put a squeeze on the paper, the teachers would be forced to improve their instruction.  The Kid said he didn’t buy into this malarkey, not for a second, cause when you was teaching you hadda always put something in the students hands, to keep them focused, to keep them, howdoyasayit—on task.  So the Kid made sure there was plenty a paper at Eisenhower.

He also made sure the printers and photocopiers was always working, everyday.  Like wit the paper, there was this idear that making all these photocopies was somehow bad—that it wasn’t real teaching—but the Kid knew this was crap-ola, too, cause how was you supposed to get the materials to the students wit no photocopiers?  How was you supposed to print out lessons wit no working printers?  So he made sure this stuff was working good and smooth, and that July, had service people come in and tune this stuff up.  He made sure the heat and the air condition was running right, cause in a buncha the schools in Filthy-delphia, it didn’t run right; it was too hot or too cold.  He made sure he kept connections wit parents over the summer—the ones that was in charge a helping run the “safety zones” and real important stuff like that—so they could be ready to get down to business come the beginning of September.  The Kid kept in touch wit Coach Reed, too, who was coming up to the school every Tuesday and Thursday to work wit Tamarra and the other kids on the track team, doing workouts right out there on the track he built on the side a the school.  Dom would take a mid morning break and come outside to watch Reed’s track practices, watch about a dozen poor kids wit barely enough money to afford shoes run their hearts out under the hot summer sun, run good and hard, making the Kid feel guilty that he should be doing more to get in better shape, now that he was the big 4-0.

Dom was happy that July; he said it point blank in his journal, and at our weekly meetings.  He was contacted by the Eastern Association of Academics and Schools and informed that—hallelujah!—Eisenhower passed the audit and was officially given accreditation.  Dom finally started to forget about World Peace Charter, and all the guilt over helping Tony steal all that money started to fade just a little, and so did his fear and anger.  Course, speak a the friggin devil . . . you’s guys know the saying.  Right in the beginning of August, right when the Kid was coming down the home stretch a the summer and trying to kick things up a gear to get ready for the school year at Eisenhower, World Peace Charter jumped right back on the Kid’s radar—like a dirty old man jumping outta the bushes in a trench coat and flashing you his wrinkled package.  One day, outta the friggin blue, the Kid gets a call from a reporter at the Philadelphia Post, saying that there was a protest down at World Peace Charter High School, and did Dom wanna comment about?

According to his journal, the conversation went something like this: “Scuze me?” Dom says to the broad on the phone.

“Is this Dominic Rossetti, the C.E.O. of World Peace Charter?”

“Yes, this is him,” the Kid says from his office at Eisenhower.

“Would you like to comment about the protest rally going on this afternoon at your charter school?”

The Kid wrote that he didn’t know what to say to this, that he was caught, um, flatfooted.  “No comment,” he says to the reporter, and just hangs up.  Now, at this point the Kid wrote that he was so pissed off and angry that he just figured screw it, I ain’t gonna worry about this nonsense, I’m done wit this whole charter school train wreck.  He wrote that he pretended that the call never happened, and went back to working on the rosters for the Eisenhower students for September, and even turned on some music in his office to block all the other bullshit out.  This only worked for about five minutes, though, before the Kid started having this crazy anxiety and feeling like he was on the verge of a panic attack.  Things was really starting to spin outta control, he wrote, and at the moment, the Kid felt like his whole life was just gonna crash and explode, that the sky was gonna fall right on him.

He hadda make it right, he knew.  Not wit Tony—he wasn’t up to that yet—but wit these people who was protesting at the charter school.  So the Kid just jumped in his car and drove as fast as could to the Langston Hughes Elementary School building—the site a the new cutting edge World Peace Charter High School—and started thinking about ways to do damage control when he got there.  He didn’t know for sure what they was protesting about, but he had some idears.  The main thing he was thinking about was his connection wit his uncle Tony—that his school would be linked to the mob.  Or, it could be about all the missing money in the budget, the fact that not even two months after 1.1 million of taxpayer dollars was deposited in the account, only a grand was left.  That could be it, too.  Either way, the Kid thought he was toast.  Whatever it was, he’d simply tell the truth.  He was very clear about that in his journal.  The Kid wasn’t gonna make this any worse than it was, and would simply come clean if they asked him about the cash or his ties to the Genitaglia organized crime famb’ly; he may have had a problem wit gambling and made a few bad decisions in his past, but he was no coward.  He’d even turn over a copy a his journal to the newspaper people, hoping this would win him at least some sympathy.

The Kid got to the charter building and he couldn’t believe what he saw.  There was a protest, a big one, wit about at least 200 people.  Al Akbar’s people was there—the Achievement Kings Charter School scumbags—but at the time, the Kid didn’t realize this.  There was also another group there, these jack-wads called IDAG, which stood for I think Individuals wit Disabilities Advocacy Group, and as it turns out, they was protesting cause Dom’s new charter school didn’t have no ramps for wheelchair access.  That’s what all the brouhaha was about, what the whole protest was for—frigging wheelchair ramps.  It took the Kid a little while to figure this all out.  According to his journal he parked his car—his candy apple red Porsche—on a side street, put on a baseball hat and sunglasses and walked right up to the people and started asking questions, asking what all of the commotion was about.  He was pointed in the direction a this one guy, this the tall fella in a suit and tie, who was supposedly the parent of a boy who was handicapped and didn’t get into World Peace Charter High School.  His son applied, back in the winter when he was supposed to, and he filled out all the paperwork and had all the proper records and whatnot, and he completed all the essays, but he still didn’t get in, and the boy’s father was hopping mad about it, see.  He was pissed.  And as it turns out, there wasn’t even any wheelchair ramps at the school, and God only knew if the 2012-13 freshmen class at World Peace Charter even had any disabled students on roll at all.  He’d bet that they didn’t, bet the house on it.

So Dom was listening to this guy pitch a fit, just shaking his head and listening, hoping that this guy wouldn’t recognize that Dom was the C.E.O. of the charter.  It was hard to hear the guy, Dom wrote in his journal, cause people was shouting “disabled students have rights too!” and “support ramps, not intolerance!” in the background.  There was news cameras there, too, and newspaper reporters.  Dom tried to avoid the reporters and decided to kinda slip away and get outta there.  He wasn’t really ready for any of it, and he hadda take some time to think about what to do.  The friggin thing caught him off guard, especially the part about not accepting any disabled kids to the charter school.  No kids got accepted, cause the freakin school didn’t even exist, except on paper, so the father a this boy needed to calm down and take a deep breath.  Course, the father didn’t know that, and who could blame him for wanting the best for his boy?  Still, Dom was tired a the whole damn thing, this phony charter was a serious drain on his time at Eisenhower, and that was the real . . . whatdoyacallit, injustice.

Anyways, Dom wrote that he was surprised that there was complaints about admissions into World Peace Charter, cause he’d already prepared for this problem back in the winter.  In February or March, the Kid held a fake lottery in the auditorium of the Chestnut Hill Youth Center to select the kids who would be accepted into World Peace Charter High School’s, um, inaugural freshmen class for the coming 2012-13 school year.  He invited all the parents and students who officially applied to World Peace to come and watch to see if their name would get pulled from a hat.  Dom actually had me and the Gorilla send out the letters—something like 180 of them, that’s how many actually applied—folding them up and shoving them in envelopes, putting on the address labels, stamping and sticking them in the mail.  It was quite a buncha bullshit, I’ll say that, but Dom insisted on it; that was the rules a running a charter . . . you hadda have a public lottery, give all the kids in the city an equal chance to get accepted to the school.

Like I said, Dom did all this in I think February or March, before he even hadda building, and it was, um, excruciating for him, seeing all the eighth graders and their parents sitting there in the auditorium of the Youth Center, crossing their fingers and hoping that their names was gonna get called, that they was gonna get to go to World Peace Charter, that they was gonna get to learn about Egyptian Math and Israeli Science, join the Wind Farm Club and Solar Panel Team so they could learn about how to be green and help the environment.  It was tough for Dom to watch this, see.  Cause at the end, after he picked all the names and the lottery was over, no one in the audience got accepted to the school.  Every name Dom picked from the hat—it was a wire drum that you spun around, actually, me and the Gorilla, wearing hats and sun glasses, was there to see it—every name that was picked, they just happened to be absent.  And the next name is  . . . Bill Jones.  Is Bill Jones or his parents here?  No?  Okay, we’ll move on.  The next name is Mary Smith?  Mary’s not here tonight?  We’ll have to email her that she got accepted.  And the next name is Tyrone Brown . . . And the Kid did this for like 45 straight minutes, calling out 100 names a kids who just happened to be absent, and the parents a the eighth graders sitting there was just looking around, wondering where the people was, but nobody said nothing, cause they was just keeping their fingers crossed and hoping that their name would be called next.  Plus, the Kid kept saying that the people who didn’t get called would get put on a waiting list, that it was good that all the people wasn’t there, cause if they didn’t show up at the school the next year, the people on the waiting list would get called up to take their place.  In the end some people did think something funny was going on, that Dom was pulling a fast one, like the father a that handicapped boy.  And technically, he was right: no disabled kids was accepted to the Kid’s charter, not a one.

Not a damned one.

For a minute, at the protest rally, it looked like this one TV news chick recognized Dom from interviewing him years ago when he won teacher a the year, but she didn’t, at least that’s what Dom wrote in his journal; he was in clear now, at least for a while.

The Kid got into his car and left the protest, now more guilty and confused than ever.

_______

Tony saw the protest rally on TV, and was all worked-up about it.  Not that him and Dom coulda got caught . . . what’s the word . . . embezzling a million bucks form the city and taxpayers, but that World Peace Charter High School didn’t have ramps for the poor kids in wheelchairs.  This wasn’t freakin right, Tony said, and they hadda do something about it.  How could you treat crippled kids like this, kids wit frigged up legs and whatnot, how could you just kick them to the curb like last week’s garbage?  You couldn’t, it wasn’t friggin right, and Tony made this clear to Dom.  See, our uncle Giovanni, me and Tony’s favorite uncle when we was growing up, he had Polio as a little kid.  This put him in a wheelchair, and he used to always tell us stories about how he got teased by the older kids cause his legs didn’t work, and how they used to push him down hills and into trees and all this other horrible stuff, and how this one time, these rotten kids in his neighborhood pushed his wheelchair into a whatdoyacallit, into a manure field, and how he flew outta his wheelchair at like 50 miles an hour and landed in a big pile a cow shit.  He said he fell face down in it, and that he was covered in shit, from head to toe.

Anyways, uncle Geo told me and Tony about this when we was just kids, and told us never to be mean to crippled people, to always treat them wit respect and whatnot.  I guess Tony never forgot this, which is why he was all serious about Dom putting in ramps at World Peace Charter.

“I’m not talking about this anymore!” Tony says to the Kid, this time at the Kid’s house; Tony had me drive him over to the Kid’s condo the next day after he saw World Peace Charter on the news.  “You put those goddamned ramps in, before I make a ramp outta your head, understand?  What’s a matter wit you, huh?  Why’s you treating the crippled kids like that?  Now, my uncle Geo, he was in a wheelchair, see.  He had Polio, and the kids on the block used to make fun a him . . .”

“I know about uncle Geo,” the Kid says.  “You told me this already, uncle Tony.”

“Yeah, well, you need to start treating those crippled kids wit some respect.”

“But there’s not any kids in the charter school.”

“Huh?”

“There’s not any handicapped kids in the school,” Dom says.

“Dah.  Don’t ya think I know this?  That’s why you gotta put in the ramps, so you can have the crippled kids in the school.”

“But uncle Tony, the school . . .”  The Kid just stopped talking then, cause he knew it wasn’t no use.  Tony wanted to have ramps put in at World Peace Charter, so the Kid would have to have ramps put in.  About a week later, the Kid calls me up and asks if I can go to Tony and ask for some money to do the job, being that the charter school’s budget was down to $1,000—he’d already given all the money to Tony for his Straight A’s strip club—and I told the Kid I’d see what I could do.  Now, I’ll be honest, I was nervous about going to Tony, cause he’s such a friggin nut case animal.  But I did it anyways, just cause I like the Kid; he was like a son to me, ya know.  So I call my brother Tony on the phone and tell him that the Kid is gonna put in the ramps, just like he wanted, but that Tony was gonna have to pay for it, being that the Kid gave him the million dollars outta the charter budget.  At first, I thought Tony was gonna go for it, cause he was already giving me names a people who could do the job.  Tony wanted his union guys to do the work, it would only be fair.  They was union, and they was good guys.  Course, I didn’t care who did the work, just as long as Tony would pay for it.

“Pay for it?” Tony says.  “What in friggin Christ is you talking about, Manny?”

“You know,” I says, “pay for the job.  To build the ramps at the charter school.”

“I told you, Jimmy’s gonna do the work.  He’s union.  We gotta look out for each other.”

“He’s gonna do it for free?”

“Free?  Noooo, you dumb goombah!  Jimmy’s getting the contract.  Free?  Forgetaboutit.  How’s he gonna do it for free, Manny?  How’s Jimmy gonna eat?  How’s he gonna feed his famb’ly?”

And that was it.  Tony was done talking about it.  I told the Kid the news and the Kid was super pissed off, all bent up and whatnot.  He said I made the whole thing worse, and maybe I did, maybe.  Turns out, Jimmy charged the Kid three friggin times as much as Toban Masonry, Inc., who gave the Kid a bid of $8,000 to put in concrete ramps at the main entrance a the school.  This came to a grand total of $22,500, which the Kid hadda pay for, hadda take outta Eisenhower’s 2012-13 budget.  He didn’t know exactly where it was coming from, but he’d have to figure it out, fast.  There was exactly 17 days until the first day a school.

Part 13  

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