Atlanta Charter Fraudster Chris Clemons was an MIT Featured Attraction in 2007
In the summer of 2015, the board of the Latin Academy Charter School (Atlanta) reported that over $600,000 was missing from school accounts.
In April 2016, the school’s founder and leader, Chris Clemons, was arrested in his hometown of Denver and sent back to Atlanta to face charges not only related to the missing $600,000+ from Latin Academy Charter, but also for $350,000+ missing from two other Fulton County (Ga.) schools formerly overseen by Clemons.
Clemons apparently ripped off his own schools to the tune of roughly one million dollars.
However, in September 2007, when Clemons was enrolled at MIT for his MBA and featured in this News@MITSloan article, entitled, “Back to School for Schools,” no one would have guessed that less than a decade later, the same guy would be facing charges for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money entrusted to him for the education of hundreds of Georgia students.
Below are excerpts that read ironic in 2016 from the 2007 MIT feature on Clemons:
Chris Clemons was stunned when he learned that authorities often plan prison space based on how well kids read in the fourth grade. The 28-year-old earned a political science degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and had aspirations of law school, until he discovered that his real calling in life was advocating for impoverished children in urban areas. “I knew I was going to go into education. I wanted to have an impact,” he says.
To boost his teaching experience and see how the other half lived, he took as a job as a middle school teacher at the Germantown Friends School, a posh private school in Philadelphia. Unlike the plagued public school system, the environment was comfortable and “seductive,” admits Clemons. “But I just couldn’t shake the notion that if I got hit by a bus one day…the kids would be just fine because they had so much support.” He knew he had to return to public schools if he was going to make a difference.
In 2004 he joined Building Excellent Schools (BES), a Boston-based, national training program that teaches carefully-selected applicants, or “Fellows,” to open and run non-profit charter schools in impoverished areas across the nation. Clemons was commissioned as a Fellow to help convert a public school to a charter school in his hometown of Denver. Fellows are paid an $80,000 stipend to start a charter school and ultimately run it. The year-long experience of launching the charter school changed Clemons forever. “It really expanded my world in a number of ways. I got excited about how to design a school, but what really got me excited were the structural aspects of running a school, like finance, and accounting, and becoming a sophisticated leader of a multimillion dollar organization.” …
This inside experience [working for BES] inspired Clemons to return to school and earn his MBA, so he can learn more business concepts to apply to running a school. Non-profits such as BES are in dire need of practical skills. “What we have in abundance at BES is passion. I think we fool ourselves into thinking that our passion is enough to make us effective,” Clemons says. “Sometimes charter schools struggle to efficiently manage their resources. It’s a painful divide in the non-profit sector between those who have some business skills and acumen and those who don’t.” …
During his final months at BES, he was involved in launching two charter schools in New Orleans, where the entire school system needs to be overhauled following Hurricane Katrina. The disaster “wiped the slate clean” in the city, and according to Clemons, there is now a tremendous opportunity for the consideration of charter schools. “The moment you come out and say you want to start a charter school, your portfolio of enemies will triple overnight,” he says. But Clemons understands some of the criticism. He says some charter schools obtain bad reputations when they mismanage funds and don’t deliver on their promises.
And now, fast forward to 2016:
Christopher Clemons was arrested Tuesday in the Denver area by the FBI on theft and fraud charges. Atlanta police officers will travel to Colorado to extradite Clemons, according to the FBI.
The alleged thefts affected Latin Academy, one of Atlanta Public Schools’ higher-performing middle schools, and two brand new Fulton County charter schools. …
At Latin Academy more than $600,000 was taken from school bank and credit card accounts through ATM withdrawals and to pay for dinners, non-work-related travel, bonuses to employees and “personal entertainment at local night clubs,” according to an initial police report. The school’s board discovered the missing money last summer.
And at Fulton County’s Latin Grammar School and Latin College Preparatory School, more than $350,000 was withdrawn in cash or transferred to a nonprofit created by Clemons. Cash was withdrawn from ATMs, including one with the same address as a strip club, according to bank statements. …
Clemons also borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars in the schools’ nameswithout the school boards’ authorization, according to legal records.
And back to 2007:
“I got excited about how to design a school, but what really got me excited were the structural aspects of running a school, like finance, and accounting, and becoming a sophisticated leader of a multimillion dollar organization.” …
“The moment you come out and say you want to start a charter school, your portfolio of enemies will triple overnight,” he says. But Clemons understands some of the criticism. He says some charter schools obtain bad reputations when they mismanage funds and don’t deliver on their promises.
Bad reputations from mismanaging funds indeed.
Caption: “Chris Clemons plans to use his MBA to help schools.”
My thanks to Laura H. Chapman for her contribution to this post.
Coming June 24, 2016, from TC Press: