Tag Archives: A3 Charter Schools

Representative Lauren Boebert’s Controversial High School Civics Address

23 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/23/2023

When it was learned that Lauren Boebert the gun enthusiast who represents Colorado’s third congressional district was going to address middle and high school students in Dolores, there was angst. Emails to The Journal, the local newspaper, expressed concern that it would be a political event and some parents worried that the congresswoman would be packing a concealed weapon. The fact that parents and media were barred from attending heightened tensions. Fortunately, The Journal was able to force its way in.

According to the 2020 census, Dolores, Colorado is a small community of 885 people located in Montezuma County. It sits in the middle of rugged mountainous terrain making up the Southwest portion of the state. Dolores is part of Boebert’s congressional district which covers about 50,000 square miles of sparsely populated territory and constitutes almost half of the Colorado land mass. It is an interesting twist that Montezuma County has Dolores County on its northern border.

Colorado Annotated Congressional District Map

In the 2021/22 school year, Dolores’s middle school reported 209 students and its high school 168. The school demographics are about 79% White, 16% Hispanic and a small percentage of Indians and Asians.

For Boebert’s event, students were free to opt out. After the affair, Superintendent Reece Blincoe estimated that 250 students attended Boebert’s presentation.

Two days before Boebert arrived, the school district emailed parents with details of her visit. It said the Representative would provide a “rare chance to hear from the sitting congresswoman from our region and to promote civic engagement.” The missive stated that no parents could attend and that she would not carry a firearm on campus. It said the students were not required to attend and an alternative classroom would be available. The message stressed that Boebert’s visit would “NOT” be a political event.

Following the student assembly, when The Journal reporter in attendance asked about the safety and political concerns of some parents, Boebert replied,

“That’s really unfortunate that they would politicize something like this, and it was certainly an honor for me to be there. I wasn’t making anything political of it. You know, just explaining the basics of civics and government and the way things operate and giving them kind of an insider’s look without a partisan lens. I’m not sure exactly what the safety concern would be. But I think that it was well received and the students were amazing, friendly and welcoming … they were a joy,”

The day following the event, The Journal reported that she did get quite political:

 “Boebert contended that the response to COVID-19 infringed on liberties during the pandemic and told students they should know about those issues and let it motivate them to stand up for their freedom.

‘“I was happy being a mom,’ Boebert said. ‘I was a business owner, but I saw government over-regulating, overtaxing, overspending and destroying everything that we were working so hard to build.’”

The Durango Herald wrote an editorial stating,

“We strongly support students engaging in civic matters. But we’re uncomfortable with U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert’s visit on Wednesday to Dolores High School because her talk ventured beyond governance into political territory.”

“According to our latest news story, she spoke about “moral decay”; becoming aware of issues that could infringe on students’ rights; the Freedom Caucus, a conservative group of GOP representatives; and liberties infringed on during the pandemic. Apparently, she also told students they should know about those issues and let it motivate them to stand up for their freedom.

“Come on! This is Boebert’s brand on stage in front of students without parents present.”

“Tom Burris, superintendent of Montezuma-Cortez School District, said he had previously received an email from Boebert’s team inquiring about an assembly with middle and high school students. Burris said he respectively declined, saying MCSD was “focusing energies on students in the classroom and academics.”’

The Denver Post reports that in the 2022 congressional election Montezuma County voted 57% for Boebert and 43% for her opponent Adam Frisch. So this event was clearly in an area of political strength for the Congresswoman. However, in her 2022 re-election effort, she only won the district by a margin of 546 votes out of the 327,132 cast or by a 0.17% margin.

This prompted several parents to believe that her visit was nothing but a campaign maneuver trying to capture new soon to graduate high school voters for 2024.

Like her or loath her, the fact is that Boebert is a very divisive personality. Even though her political support in the county is strong, her opposition is impassioned. The Post speculated this was because,

“Boebert has a history of espousing anti-LGBTQ views. She’s called women “weaker” than men, criticized the separation of church and state and made Islamophobic comments implying a colleague in Congress might be a terrorist. Political and religious experts say her Christian nationalist rhetoric presents a danger to the country’s democratic foundations.

Molly Cooper, a district parent, explained at a recent school board meeting, “This is about Boebert herself, the hate she spews and the policies she continues to support and put forward that vilify those that are different from her.”

An A3 Surprise

A concerned parent said this was all started when High School Social Studies teacher Ed Miller and Principal Justin Schmitt invited Representative Boebert to the school in October 2022, but she declined. The Boebert team appears to have decided to run a low key barely concealed series of campaign events at local high schools and reached out to Dolores in early March. The school scheduled an assembly for March 15.

The shocking revelation here is not only that Representative Boebert is willing to use public schools for partisan politics but that Dolores High School has convicted A3 conspirator Justin Schmitt as principal. It turns out he grew up and attended school there. In October, 2019 while under indictment for conspiracy to defraud the state of California out of $80,000,000, Schmitt was hired as Dean of Students in Dolores. The Journal reported that then Superintendent Lis Richard claimed he is “an extraordinary administrator.” And she continued,

“I promise you that we are aware of anything you may have heard and we stand by him in full support. He is the right person for our secondary dean of students position. His passion, dedication and wisdom are exemplary.”

Eric Beste the San Diego lawyer representing Schmitt in the A3 case emphasized that Schmitt was a salaried employee and not an A3 business owner. In other words, he was just a working guy caught up in the illegal scheming of his employer and was not a criminal at heart.

The next year Schmitt was hired as interim Principal at Dolores High School. The April 16, 2020 announcement of the appointment carried in The Journal stated, ‘“If he does not meet the ‘conditions set’ (if he is found guilty of anything more than a misdemeanor), his position will be ‘terminated,’ the update states.” However, Superintendent Richards declared, “I think it is fair to mention that a misdemeanor is not a disqualifier for licensure and I still stand by that Mr. Schmitt did nothing illegal ….”

I wrote about the A3 scandal in the summer of 2019 and it was clear to me that Justin Schmitt was not a peripheral player. He was always among the five people mentioned in stories about the indictments. I used, “The Grand Jury of San Diego County heard the testimony of 72 witnesses and voted out a 67-count indictment against Sean McManus, Jason Schrock, Justin Schmitt, Eli Johnson, Steven Zant and six others.” He was the office manager the other conspirators were communicating through.

Schmitt came to A3 through his connection with the Colorado online charter school system Foundations of Learning. At one time, he listed himself on his LinkedIn page as the Foundations of Learning Director of Schools. When McManus and Schrock bought Foundations of Learning to manage Mosaic online Justin Schmitt came with the purchase. Mosaic eventually became Valiant Academy through which Schmitt supervised the summer school sports scam.

In 2022, as part of the nobody goes to jail resolution to the A3 theft, the Voice of San Diego reported,  

“Schmitt pleaded guilty to a felony count of taking money in order to conceal crime. The charge was later reduced to a misdemeanor and Schmitt was sentenced to one year probation.”

In August 2021, Reece Blincoe was introduced as interim Superintendent of Dolores School District. He had previously served as superintendent for the Brownwood ISD in Brownwood, Texas. It appears that after seven years he was forced out of Brownwood with an agreement that included $300,000 for his resignation. There was no claim of malfeasance against Blincoe but there were rumors that it had to do with an unsubstantiated claim of bullying.

Blincoe, Schmitt and the rest of their team come out of the Boebert episode looking badly used and inept. What do they do when Boebert’s Democratic challenger Adam Frisch comes to Dolores and requests a similar event? How can a public school that has already hosted one politician legitimately turn away another politician? There is no good answer.

Not a Day behind Bars for A3 Charter Grifters

12 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/12/2022

The A3 Charter School Conspirators fraudulently collected $400 million from the state of California, misappropriated more than $200 million and according to the Voice of San Diego’s Will Huntsberry outright stole $80 million. The two ring leaders were fined $18.75 million each, given four year jail sentences and credited with four years for time served while under house arrest awaiting court dates. Of the 11 people charged in the A3 charter school scam, the largest in California history, not one of them will spend a day behind bars.

In 2019, the San Diego County Grand Jury heard testimony from 72 witnesses and voted out a 67-count indictment against Sean McManus, Jason Schrock, Justin Schmitt, Eli Johnson, Steven Zant and six others. Their criminal scheme involved a network of 19 online charter schools enrolling thousands of students. For the plotters, their summer athletic programs which had no teachers or classes were particularly successful for purloining ill gotten gains.

Schrock and McManus established the Academic Arts and Action charter Academies in 2015; soon dubbed A3 charters. An early step in establishing the A3 empire came when Steven Zant, a former superintendent of the tiny Dehesa Elementary School District in San Diego County, brokered the sale of the online nonprofit charter school Mosaic Online Academy of Southern California to A3 for $1.5 million. The A3 non-profit tax filing for 2016 indicates that McManus received salary and benefits totaling $487,781 and Schrock collected $368,015. It shows A3 revenues of $14,205,716 and a profit of $10,587,203. The new non-profit business was lucrative from the start.

Before hooking up with McManus, Jason Schrock’s linked in page states he was principal at Valley Christian School in Cerritos, CA for seven years starting in 1999. He then became “Regional Advancement Director” for Iowa based Northwestern College affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church in America. In 2014, he became co-owner of Creative Arts Early Leaning Academy in Orlando, Florida and apparently is still associated with them. Also in 2014 he became CEO of Learning Re: Defined which catered to a Christian clientele. They appear to be defunct.

Sean McManus had been chasing charter school gold several years before partnering with Schrock. From 2009-2015, he was CEO of the Academy of Arts and Science Charter Schools (AAS). Network for Public Education Executive Director Carol Burris reports that it was here he developed his model for using cash-strapped small districts to authorize his online schools. The seed money for AAS was provided by the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter School Program (CSP). Eleven Academy of Arts and Sciences charter schools that used the for-profit K-12 curriculum received a total of $2,825,000 from the CSP state grant to California. Today, all 11 schools are closed.

McManus learned a lesson while running AAS. Some of the schools were hybrid models that had in class training which meant physical addresses. Los Angeles Unified School District sued AAS for opening classrooms in their territory without authorization. The A3 charters would be 100% cyber schools with no physical classes.

How the Scam Worked

Under California Education Law, small school districts had an incentive to authorize charter schools. They get 3% of the revenue. Schrock and McManus approached small districts throughout the state to establish cyber charters.

The chart above shows authorizing districts for each of the 19 A3 charter schools. To read the chart, follow the example of Dehesa Elementary District on right side second chartering district down. Dehesa served 138 elementary school students and was supervising 11,568 charter school students in four A3 schools. The largest district authorizing an A3 school was Acton-Aqua Dulce with 1085 students and supervising 14,734 charter school students. It is unlikely that any of these small districts had the bandwidth to monitor the schools they had authorized.

A Los Angeles Times article from 2019 listed some of the charges in the indictment. The following is a summary.

Sean McManus and Jason Schrock hid the fact that they essentially owned and operated the charter schools at the same time that A3 contracted with those schools. This allowed them to operate multiple businesses that charged their own charter schools millions of dollars for services and then channel the money from those businesses into their own charitable trusts and personal bank accounts. They used this scheme to invoice at least $83.3 million from the charter schools.

More than $8.18 million went into personal bank accounts, some in Australia, and into charitable trust accounts for McManus, Schrock and their wives, and $500,000 went to a family member of McManus. They used $1.6 million of A3 Education’s funds to buy a private residence for McManus in San Juan Capistrano.

The Los Angeles area was serviced by the A3 School Valiant Academy of Southern California. Its performance in both English and math testing was extremely low. The school’s performance was so poor that the California Charter Schools Assn., which advocates for charter schools, recommended closing it.

Those original reports underestimated the scope of the fraud. In July 2022, the San Diego Union reported that A3’s fraudulent activities totaled approximately $400 million of which only $240 million has been recovered.

No Time Behind Bars.

A news report from Santa Clarita noted,

“If convicted, McManus and Schrock each face up to 40 years in state prison. Sentences for the other nine defendants if convicted could range from 4-11 years.”

The report also said that Sean McManus had fled to Australia and that there was a $5 million bench warrant issued for his arrest. McManus is still in Australia and has only participated in court proceedings from his local lawyer’s office.  

The court case was handled by the highly respected San Diego Superior Court Judge Frederick Link. He was originally appointed to the Municipal Court in 1981 by Jerry Brown and was elected to the Superior Court in 1990. At his recent retirement party, fellow Superior Court Judge Michael Smyth praised him saying, “Forty-one years and he’s been crushing it as a judge, as they say, and he hasn’t lost a step.”  That makes the outcome in this case even more puzzling.

Some of the reasons for no jail time must have resulted from prosecutors making deals and the judge signing off on them. It seems that all of the minor figures have had their felony charges reduced to misdemeanors and were sentenced to fines and probation.

Accountant Robert Williams provided financial services and let his offices be used as A3’s business address. He pleaded guilty to one felony count of altering or falsifying corporate records with the intent to defraud. From 2019 leading up to his 2021 sentencing, he remained free on his own recognizance. Williams received a $300,000 fine and three years of unsupervised probation.

Last September, Judge Link sentenced McManus and Schrock to four years in prison for their guilty pleas to two felony counts, one count of conspiracy to misappropriate public funds and one count of conflict of interest. However, the Judge indicated the law required that he take time spent under house arrest into consideration. Therefore the four year prison terms were fulfilled. There must have been some kind of an agreement struck with the prosecutor to get this outcome.

Schrock has been serving his house arrest in Orange County and McManus in Australia. McManus attended the sentencing hearing over Microsoft Teams from his lawyers office. Judge Link said at the trial,

“Mr. McManus and Mr. Schrock were thieves. And I don’t like to dance with thieves. I think they should be punished. That being said, Mr. McManus and Mr. Schrock came forward and basically divulged everything they could come up with. Without the cooperation of Mr. Schrock and Mr. McManus, we would not be here today with the amount of money that the receiver has been able to recoup. Except for that, I would definitely be putting both of these fellas in prison for a significant period of time.” 

The judge’s sentiments sound heartfelt but do not tally. McManus and Schrock misappropriated $400,000,000 of which only $240,000,000 has been recovered and they stole $80,000,000. The large fines come well short of equaling the amounts stolen. Their four year prison sentences were satisfied by two years of house arrest and McManus has never returned to face his charges in person.

I cannot help wondering how that Australian house arrest was monitored.

Broken Legal System Must Be Reformed

This result was not a legal deterrent. Conspirators were able to fraudulently acquire so much wealth they could buy their way out of jail. Rich people hate fines but fear jail time. It is nice that some of the A3 theft was recovered but society would be much better served if moneyed racketeers faced certain jail time.

The A3 saga painfully highlights how unjust and manipulated in the favor of means our legal system has become. American style blind justice must be reinvigorated. Well-heeled scofflaws need to face jail time and large fines. The A3 outcome is an absurd miscarriage of justice painting the prosecutor and Judge in a bad hue.