Mavericks High Schools Hope to Profit From Education – But at What Cost?

Before the songs, chanting, and heartfelt tears, the ceremony next door to a Palm Springs strip mall begins with speeches. A thin, deeply tanned man in a pin-striped suit is among the first to take the microphone. He's not famous — not exactly — but his receding hairline, rectangular face, and over-eager grin are naggingly familiar. "This is a hope factory," he begins. "This is a spiritual experience."

He stands in the lobby of what could be any office building in Florida, beside a reception desk festooned with red, white, and blue balloons. A sea of dignitaries surrounds him — a city commissioner from nearby Lake Worth, the mayor of Palm Springs, school board members, a pastor, teenagers wearing name tags that say "ambassador."

"I stuttered very badly as a kid," he continues, his voice warming to the rhythm of a much-repeated tale. "I was considered a dummy. I empathize with these kids in a very intimate way."

Developer Mark Rodberg wanted Dwyane Wade's name on his restaurants and schools. To read more on the topic of Mavericks and South Florida education, click  here.
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
Developer Mark Rodberg wanted Dwyane Wade's name on his restaurants and schools. To read more on the topic of Mavericks and South Florida education, click here.
Former CEO Mark Thimmig is in a legal battle with Mavericks' other founders.
PR NEWSWIRE/Newscom
Former CEO Mark Thimmig is in a legal battle with Mavericks' other founders.

This is Frank Biden, the brother of Vice President Joe Biden. He's here, at a ribbon-cutting event August 31, to promote the first Palm Beach County location of a local for-profit chain of charter schools called Mavericks in Education Florida.

"You are all believers," Biden exhorts the crowd. "This thing spreads like wildfire."

In the past two years, eight Mavericks high schools have opened in Florida, including two in Broward, one in Palm Beach, and two in Miami-Dade counties. In 2011, Mavericks claimed to enroll more than 3,700 students.

The schools, all publicly funded and tuition-free, aim to succeed where many public schools fail. They promise to help kids who would otherwise drop out earn enough credits to graduate.

School districts are eager for the help. Just two-thirds of Florida students graduate — a rate that puts the state 44th in the nation, according to Education Week. The statistics are even worse for African-Americans and Latinos, who make up a majority of Mavericks students in South Florida. Mavericks opens schools in poor neighborhoods, welcoming students of all stripes, including those with jobs and children of their own. By taking online classes a few hours a day, they can earn a diploma.

But so far, Mavericks' lofty goals haven't materialized. Most of their schools graduate less than 15 percent of eligible students. On state report cards, the schools get "incompletes" because so few of their students are taking the FCAT. In Miami, two former teachers filed whistle-blower lawsuits alleging the Homestead school is inflating attendance records and failing to report grades properly.

Plus, there are rampant financial questions, cozy ties between Mavericks and local politicians, and a legal fight with former celebrity spokesman Dwyane Wade.

Mavericks has become a poster child for the problems that have long dogged charter schools in Florida. How can they help troubled kids while also turning a profit, especially when they are run by a man whose brother is next in line for the White House?

"Join us in our mission," Biden says. "If you don't feel a little bit of this energy today, then there's something wrong with you!"


Mavericks' story begins in Akron, Ohio, with a wealthy industrialist who loved to wear big cowboy hats and donate millions of dollars to Republican politicians. In 1998, David Brennan launched White Hat Management. His charter schools were housed in strip malls, and the students herded in to sit at computers for three shifts a day. This was an education model Mavericks would later call the "next generation in education." But state auditors weren't so fond of the company.

For years, the for-profit company refused to reveal how millions of tax dollars were divided between expenses such as teacher salaries and computers, and profits for White Hat. Meanwhile, many of the schools were given failing grades of "academic watch" or "academic emergency" by the Ohio Department of Education.

Last year, the boards of schools in Cleveland and Akron sued White Hat to terminate their contracts, alleging the schools were run without local input and money wasn't reaching the classrooms. This August, an Ohio judge ordered White Hat to open its books for discovery in the suit, but the information has not yet been published.

One of White Hat's early leaders was Mark Thimmig. As CEO from 2001 to 2005, he helped grow the company into one of the largest charter school chains in the country. As of 2010, White Hat had 51 charter schools in six states, including ten charter schools in Florida called Life Skills Centers.

Two years after leaving White Hat, Thimmig alleges in court documents, he was approached by Palm Beach Gardens developer Mark Rodberg about launching a chain of charter schools here. Rodberg had built a few schools for White Hat, but had never run one before. He owned restaurants, including Bucky's Bar-B-Que in Boca Raton and Bucky's Grill in Fort Lauderdale. Together, Thimmig and Rodberg came up with a plan that was nearly identical to White Hat's: Students would attend school but take all their courses online, using virtual technology that required minimal maintenance. Classrooms could hold rows of cubicles with computers where kids would sit elbow-to-elbow. There would be no after-school sports teams, just "cyber-athletics" that allowed kids to play Wii instead of shooting hoops.

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22 comments
A former mavericks parent
A former mavericks parent

Mavericks as a whole is a joke Kids cheating their way to a graduation Administration doing nothing but lining their pockets with illegal money for students they claim on their system who have never attended . Grades are fake and mean nothing .. Computers instead of textbooks and teachers and they wonder why they have 7% passing on the reading fcat after te state lowered its standard and how can you even lump the ones that passed it while in jail. Somebody needs to shut them down... Parents don't send your kids there... Job seekers keep moving trust me you don't want to work for such a lousy company trying to pass itself off as a school

Itzli
Itzli

Yet the school boards in Florida continue to approve new charter schools...hmmmm...something fishy is going on....how come the Department of Education allows this to happen? There is a lot of money going under the table for school board members and other politicians who are involved with the approval of charter schools....I smell CORRUPTION!!! It's the only explanation...there should be more "Watergate" uncoverings...

Comment
Comment

How can u teach kids using a program on a computer and kids take the test and write the wrong answer in a paper then take test again and they put different answer until they go it right teachers begs students to come to classroom cos kids don't hv too as long as they work on the computer how can a software teach kids teacher at maverick they do secretary work answer phone and teach about 8 kids a day that's all they do

Guest
Guest

InConclusion2012, is probably someone at mavericks. Simply put...why would anyone ever take their children to a non-credited school? ...Do a background check before posting. The Rodbergs are in it for the money. They have so much Litigation's and people suing them in the state of Florida, no one would ever do business with them...these people are hoodlums.  Forget about what they are trying to do...and FYI.. the SAT scores for  Miami Dade, are up this year, substantially. Look it up....

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jgrim
jgrim

Hey, InConclusion- What's your name and who do you work for? Are you a real live 1%er or a PR persona defending private profit off of the backs of poor kids? Ever worked in a classroom with at-risk kids? I have for 23 years.

It's NOT the school system that has failed these kids- it's your sociopathic 1%ers' economic system that has left them and their families in deep debt and poverty with low wage jobs and no support services.

InConclusion2012
InConclusion2012

Winston Churchill said: To build may have to be a slowand laborious task of Years. to destroy can be the thoughtless act of a singleday...

 

Lisa Rab and her cohorts have been hammering away at theMavericks organization for over a month now, it has brought me to threeconclusions.

 

(1). Thank God the people at Mavericks are providing anopportunity for 4000 at risk teenagers to Graduate High School. I personallydon't know of any other organizations offering tuition free education to thissegment of students.

 

(2). If the Public Education System was doing the jobthat they receive over $12,000 per student of tax payer money as opposed to$6,000 the charter schools receive. Mavericks would not have any studentsenrolling.

 

(3) I have not read any suggestions or alternativesolutions by Lisa Rab for parents of students that are not succeeding in thepublic high schools they are assigned to base on the boundries of where theylive. 

 

 

Joe
Joe

In the article, it says "Mavericks officials say Fort Lauderdale's debt was temporary, because the school's original enrollment was low. Hollander wrote a check to cover the budget hole, and the school is "now on its feet and very healthy,"  Funny thing about that.  The Fort Lauderdale school achieved full enrollment faster than any previous Maverick's High School.  While Mavericks promised they would advertise on the radio to encourage enrollment, the radio spots never happened.  And the school was trying to enrollment for two months before Mavericks bothered to add the school to their website.  The problems at Fort Lauderdale are not the fault of early poor enrollment.  They are entirely the fault of the money grabbing, don't give a lick about education, management in the Corporate Offices.  Gov'n Scott -- are you reading this article.  It is time to put strong controls on Charter Schools so that they quit taking tax payer money and giving nothing back to the public.  And Mavericks ... shut them down!

dip lomas94
dip lomas94

Great info man you have done a great job. You are really inspiring me. Keep up the good work.

Online Diploma

FQS9000
FQS9000

At the worst, a for profit school cares about keeping students and their parents happy.  This is in stark contrast to the teaching union weasels who only care about time off, benefits, pensions and making sure nobody ever, ever gets fired.  Just read their contracts.

Jerry1932
Jerry1932

The article correctly points out why Florida is a ripe mark for these types of frauds.  You MUST send your kid to private school.  Most are very good, but this is total BS! Even the private schools here that charge almost $20,000 provide very little extras b/c they do not have to.  There is no competition.  I blame the Old F-er's who move here and the corrupt public officials.

SchoolDistrictFailsChildren
SchoolDistrictFailsChildren

Lisa, I would like to hear more about how the Palm Beach School District only graduates 22% of Black Males or Miami's 27%.  How long has this been going on? Why cant they reach these kids?  What happens to these kids?

SchoolDistrictFailsChildren
SchoolDistrictFailsChildren

If public education did its job, there would be no need for schools like mavericks.  Students need alternatives because the system is BROKEN.

Geraldo
Geraldo

Good reporting but there's an awful lot of self-promotion from New Times in an article about education and developers skating by on self-promotion alone.

Itzli
Itzli

You obviously work for Mavericks and are getting part of the big $$$ that company is stealing from the tax payers. As a teacher who has worked in charter schools and schools that utilize the computer system called Plato, I can tell you that students do not learn anything, and that those schools are just a money-making business,  doing a disservice to the students. These schools are part of the master plan of keeping people uneducated to create an ignorant yet controllable nation. 

ForTheChildrenOfAmerica
ForTheChildrenOfAmerica

If you close Mavericks High, who will educate these children?  The school system has already failed them...

Davetg
Davetg

So how many teachers do you actually know?? I would say none. I would also say that you've never had a job w/ a contract, or been a union member as well. That's a little sad actually. Working conditions are a concern, but in front of that is the concern we have for our students . . . Something that you know absolutely nothing about . . .

KennyPowersII
KennyPowersII

Maybe it is more like the students fail the districts. Those that do not want to be taught and devalue the worth of an education will fail. They drag the system down to their level and defeat the educational process.

Lisa Rab
Lisa Rab

Good questions! I don't have any fast answers, but I will look into it.

ForTheChildrenOfAmerica
ForTheChildrenOfAmerica

Its not the fault of teachers...  The system is BROKEN...  This competition from charter schools will cause everyone to rethink the plan.  Schools havent improved upon their models in a hundred years...  The current system is turning certain minorities into a permanent underclass...

FQS9000
FQS9000

At last count, my mother was a teacher, my wife is a teacher and I know three other local union twerps.  I've been in a union and they are merely extortion organizations.  No teacher in the last 50 years has had unsafe working conditions.  They merely want more money for less work and less responsibility.  Read any teacher's union contract.

The teacher's unions are run by scum.  Any teacher who doesn't like their job is entitled to find another job, but they should not have high pay or tenure for NOT teaching our children.

recentgraduate
recentgraduate

last time I checked, the starting salary for a teacher in Florida is $29K. all I remember is the caliber of the students in the teacher's college was the worst in my university. high pay for having a 4-year degree? sure doesn't look like it to me and it doesn't look like a desirable profession at that. welcome to the new normal, America. 

 
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