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

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In its promotional packets, Mavericks hands out a news story citing a 2010 study by the Schott Foundation for Public Education. According to the study, Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade counties are among the worst-performing districts in the country when it comes to serving black students. Only 39 percent of black males graduated in Broward in 2008, compared to 58 percent of white males. In Palm Beach, only 22 percent of black male students graduated, and in Miami-Dade, it was 27 percent. By targeting at-risk kids, Mavericks would try to alleviate this achievement gap.

Each school is overseen by a local, nonprofit board. Mavericks in Education Florida LLC then charges the nonprofit hundreds of thousands of dollars in management fees to run daily operations. Mavericks also handles the real estate, charging the schools $350,000 a year in rent.

Rodberg, Thimmig, and the other Mavericks founders drew up an ambitious business plan. The "build out objective" promised to open 22 charter schools by the 2011-2012 school year. The plan mimicked what Thimming had done in Ohio with White Hat. But meanwhile, newspapers in Ohio were questioning how White Hat hid its money and why its schools received failing grades from the state.

Rodberg's sister, Lauren Hollander, later joined the company as manager of Mavericks. She's a real estate broker in Palm Beach Gardens, and became a 20 percent owner of Mavericks in 2008, after lending Mavericks a cash infusion of $1.2 million. She says she didn't hear about the problems with White Hat. "I don't know any of that history, honestly," she says. Hollander says her brother got to know Thimmig while building several White Hat schools.

Rodberg had more than just charter schools in his plans. He was trying to launch a chain of restaurants named after Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade. That partnership led to a bizarre beginning for the Mavericks charter schools.

In August 2007, Rodberg struck a deal with Wade to market a chain of restaurants. Their third business partner was Richard von Houtman, a man who called himself a baron and lived in a Boca Raton mansion purchased with funds from a drug lord. (See "Dwyane's Disaster," New Times July 9, 2009)

Rodberg shut down his Bucky's restaurants and reinvented them as D Wade's Place. They were to be uppity sports bars, with burgers and flat-screen TVs.

"Mr. Rodberg and Mr. von Houtman led [me] to believe that they had much experience and expertise in the restaurant business," Wade later claimed in court, "and that this deal could make everybody a lot of money."

Two months later, a chain of schools was added to the deal with Wade. Rodberg, Thimmig, and a third partner launched "Mavericks High D. Wade's Schools," a soon-to-be chain of charter schools based in Fort Lauderdale. In court documents, Thimmig alleges the plan was simple: He would contribute his expertise and "a design model for the schools." Rodberg would chip in $1 million in cash, take out a $1 million credit line, and would bring in Wade "to make appearances on behalf of the schools."

Hollander says the charters planned to use the basketball star as a celebrity spokesman, encouraging kids to enroll in Mavericks and graduate. "Kids related to him. Parents related to him. Even grandparents related to him! He was the biggest celebrity ever to be connected with the national high school dropout crisis," Thimmig told New Times in 2009.

Aside from the celebrity connection, Mavericks appeared to be White Hat for the Sunshine State. Along with Rodberg and Thimmig, Maverick's third original investor was Cathy Wooley-Brown, a former senior vice president for White Hat in Florida. The company also hired Bonnie Solinsky, who ran a White Hat school, the Life Skills Center of Pinellas County, that closed last year. Solinsky is now Mavericks' director of curriculum.

But pairing schools with a restaurant chain and a basketball star turned out to be a lethal mix. Wade would later allege in court documents that the partners were scheming to cut him out of profits. When they asked him to invest $1 million in the Aventura location of the restaurant, he refused.

According to Rodberg and von Houtman, Wade demanded a higher ownership share of the restaurant chain. When Rodberg and von Houtman refused, Wade refused to show up for photo ops and commercials. The partners sued Wade in December 2008. By then, the restaurants had closed, and Rodberg was losing cash fast. His Millennium Plaza landlord sued him for failing to pay rent on the Fort Lauderdale Bucky's. A Broward circuit court judge eventually ordered Rodberg and Bucky's to pay Millennium Plaza $3.4 million, but Rodberg appealed the ruling and won. This August the Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled the trial court had not properly determined damages, and sent the case back to Broward, where records show it has not yet been resolved.

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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab