Mavericks in Education Florida, the Fort Lauderdale-based charter school chain promoted by Frank Biden, has ties to another for-profit charter school company that has been highly controversial in Ohio.
Mark Thimmig, the founding CEO of Mavericks, is the former CEO of Akron, Ohio-based White Hat Management. Founded in 1998, White Hat developed an educational model that Mavericks would later call the "next generation in education." Its schools were housed in strip malls and students herded in to sit at computers for three shifts a day. But state auditors weren't so fond of the company.
While each school was run by a local board, White Hat kept 96 percent of the state funds it received, and the company refused for years to reveal how those millions of tax dollars were spent. Meanwhile, many of the schools were on "academic watch" or emergency, according to New Times' former sister paper, Cleveland Scene.
Last year, the boards of schools in Cleveland and Akron sued White Hat to terminate their contracts, alleging that the schools were run without local input and that money wasn't reaching the classrooms. This August, an Ohio judge finally ordered White Hat to open its books.
Thimmig was one of White Hat's early leaders. As CEO from 2001 to 2005, he helped the company grow into one of the largest charter-school chains in the country, including some schools in Florida. Two years after leaving White Hat, Thimmig alleges in court documents, he was approached by Palm Beach Gardens developer Mark Rodberg about launching a new chain of charters schools in Florida.
According to Rodberg's sister, Mavericks manager Lauren Hollander, Rodberg had helped build some White Hat schools and got to know Thimmig in the process. In 2007, Rodberg, Thimmig, and other investors launched Mavericks.
They opened four schools before internal squabbling began to plague the company. In 2009, Thimmig resigned over disagreements with the other founders. He later sued Mavericks for back salary and money he said he lent the company. Rodberg and Hollander fired back, accusing Thimmig in court documents of "misusing federal and state grant funds," mismanaging the budget, and asking Mavericks employees to leave their jobs for other work.
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The Broward Circuit Court case has not yet been resolved. Now running an automotive company in Canada, Thimmig declined to comment.
Mavericks now has eight schools in Florida, including two in Broward, one in Palm Beach, and two in Miami-Dade.