According to testimony from Carl Cira of M. L. Tharps & Associates, an auditor contracted by the City of Milwaukee, the private charter school Rocketship Southside Community Prep is running a massive deficit. Cira delivered this shocking financial report on Rocketship to the May 25th Charter School Review Committee (CSRC) meeting at City Hall. A recently completed financial audit revealed the charter is running a cumulative deficit of $1.4 million and a projected deficit of an additional $700,000 through the 2016-17 school year.
Cira’s testimony on Rocketship’s financial situation started with his reflecting, “Rocketship: A school I have some concerns about, because, they’re bleeding money, that would be my honest assessment.” CSRC member Joyce Mallory interrupted, “Who lets them pass a budget, with that kind of a deficit?”
Sadly the answer is the CSRC and the City. This financial malfeasance would not be possible in a traditional locally controlled public school accountable to a democratically elected school board, but it seems to happen all the time in the City’s private charter school district. This new revelation comes on top of financial problems already documented at City charter schools including at North Point Lighthouse Academy earlier this year. Now Rocketship has emerged as the latest example of what happens when public dollars go to these unaccountable charter schools. Watch video of the CSRC interaction below.
Like Lighthouse, Rocketship in Milwaukee is a franchise – part of a national charter school chain. Although franchisees claim that their parent company will bail them out when deficits occur, that was not the case with Lighthouse.
According to Cira, Rocketship claims its enrollment will increase next year to a point that will make the deficit disappear by the end of the 2016-17 schools year. But that claim doesn’t appear to be realistic. When it opened in 2013, its goal was to enroll 650 students. It started 2014-15 with 435 students. By June the number was 393. Its current enrollment is 420 students. Rocketship’s stated goal was to open eight K-5 schools in Milwaukee by 2017, serving up to 5,000 students. That goal has been drastically scaled back.