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

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"The District prepared an analysis to reflect missing personnel and other operational costs," staffers wrote to the School Board."The net result is a loss putting the charter school at risk for being in financial emergency."

If these monetary concerns were not enough, then-Superintendent Art Johnson said history had taught district officials to be strict in their evaluation of charters. "We need to make sure that we don't have people coming in here with an educational mission and then turning it into a business plan to make money," he told the board.

Biden later told New Times he met with each school board member before the vote, telling them Mavericks would be an "adjunct" to the public schools. 'We, over a period of a year, convinced everybody in Palm Beach County of of our good intentions," he says.

He also points out that every time a student graduates from Mavericks, they boost the school district's overall graduation rate. "So naturally they [the districts] love us."

Palm Beach school board members, presiding over a district where so few minority students graduate, swooned over Mavericks' pitch to help at-risk kids.

"I want to give every opportunity I can to underprivileged kids," said board member Monroe Benaim at the public meeting in February.

"I'm willing to take a risk," board member Karen Brill chimed in.

"We've got to be able to not leave anybody behind," added board member Marcia Andrews.

School Board member Chuck Shaw abstained from the vote. As a former charter school principal, he said he'd done some "volunteer work" for Mavericks and helped them with their charter application. He later emailed a statement to New Times that stated: "I was not involved in the writing, editing or creation of their charter, just gave my opinions since I believed that their focus was good."

What Shaw didn't mention at the public meeting was the money he'd received. At a 2010 campaign event, he collected $750 in campaign donations from Mavericks employees and their families — including Biden, the Hollanders, and the Rodbergs.

At the School Board meeting, a parade of Mavericks officials and supporters spoke in defense of the school. There was prominent African-American pastor Cedric Mays of the Baptist Ministers Conference of the Palm Beaches, and Atkisson, the former state representative. Of course, Biden was there too, invoking his family's political power.

"I give you my word of honor, on my family name, that this system is sustainable," he said. "This school will be sustainable."

The board approved the school 5-1, with only one member dissenting. Dr. Debra Robinson said she supports Mavericks but thought it was unfair for the board to overrule staff objections for one school, without re-evaluating all the other charter schools that had been recommended for denial this year. She even called out Biden for his influence on the vote.

Because people have big dogs that lobby for 'em, we are able to see better?"she said. "No. I see it as an exception to the rules."

Back at the August ribbon-cutting at Mavericks High in Palm Springs, Biden finishes his speech. A young woman wearing silver hoop earrings and sparkling pink Converse sneakers takes the mic. "All I want to do is get my education," she tells the crowd. She takes a deep breath and begins to sing.

"I'm focused, I'm ready to win," her voice trembling and clear."If I stumble, I won't hit the ground. They can't bring me down."

Now the room is hushed. The next speaker is petite and striking, with closely cropped hair, ebony skin, tattoos on her arm, and a stroller for her baby. "I want to be a great role model for my daughter," Ebonee Parker says, her voice breaking with tears. "She's the reason why I'm standing here before you."

Parker leaves the stage, but the parade of performers continues. Eight Mavericks students stand to recite the school's pledge. They are a Benetton commercial of racial diversity — blond, brown, male, female. "I am the person that directs my destiny," they pledge. "I am the best that this world has to offer. I will believe in myself even when others do not."

Finally, a small band of African-American men, including Pastor Mays, performs another song they wrote for the occasion. "You've got something good, you've got Mavericks High!" rings the chorus. The crowd begins to clap. Harmonizing voices fill the room, bringing warmth to the stale fluorescent lights and linoleum floors.

By the time everyone heads outside to cut an enormous turquoise ribbon, Liz Downey, the school secretary, has tears in her eyes. She has good reason to celebrate. Another Mavericks school was approved in early November in Orange County, and two weeks later Palm Beach County district officials would recommend approving three more. However, the Palm Beach vote was postponed after New Times published a blog about the schools.

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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab