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Frank Biden, His For-Profit Charter Chain, Mavericks in Education, and More

April 28, 2019

NOTE: This post is not an indictment of Joe Biden. it is an investigation into the charter school association of his brother, Frank Biden. I have seen info on social media regarding Frank Biden’s for-profit charter school involvement, but the info is old. So, I investigated.

Joe Biden is not involved, but his brother has time and again capitalized on the “my brother Joe” name-dropping, including in his charter school ventures.

As for Joe Biden: Like all presidential hopefuls, he needs to offer the public a clear statement regarding his position on K12 public education, including clarity about his thoughts on school choice.

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Frank Biden is the brother of former US vice president and 2020 presidential hopeful, Joe Biden.

In 2008, Frank Biden was passionate about charter schools, enough so to become involved with the Florida for-profit charter school chain, Mavericks in Education.

desk money

In the 2012 youtube video interview below sponsored by Florida-based, school choice promoter, Tripp Scott law firm, Biden refers to a chance meeting with someone associated with charter schools in Florida. That someone was Mark Rodberg, who started the Mavericks in Education via his connection to the for-profit White Hat charter schools.

This December 29, 2011, Broward-Palm Beach New Times article on Mavericks in Education provides impressively detailed background on both Biden and the histories of the White Hat and Mavericks in Education charter school chains. Below are some excerpts from the piece:

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. …

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. …

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. …

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.

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. …

…Back home in South Florida, Biden says he got involved with Mavericks after a simple chance meeting. He says he happened to meet Mark Rodberg in a coffee shop, and the developer told him about Mavericks. …

After the coffee shop meeting, Rodberg invited Biden to visit a Mavericks school, and Biden says he was hooked. He began flying around the state in a private jet, lobbying school officials and local politicians to support the charters.

He calls himself president and director of development for Mavericks, but his name did not appear on any corporate documents filed with the Florida Secretary of State until New Times began questioning him about it. …

Biden says, “We just graduated almost 200 people in one location.”

But figures from the Florida Department of Education paint a vastly different picture, showing that Mavericks schools have a worse graduation rate than traditional public schools in Florida. They show Mavericks’ best school, in Kissimmee, graduated just 43 percent of the eligible kids in June. Other Mavericks schools performed far worse. Mavericks High in North Miami Beach had a 12.7 percent graduation rate last school year. In Fort Lauderdale, the rate was 13.1 percent, Largo’s was 7.2 percent, and in Homestead it was 4.5 percent.

On Florida’s state report cards, Mavericks schools in Miami-Dade, Pinellas, and Osceola counties have all scored “incomplete” because not enough students have taken the FCAT. Hollander says she expects the FCAT grade to change as more students enroll. …

Part of Mavericks’ problem may be the teaching model: Parking troubled kids in front of a computer and hoping they’ll learn — instead of watching the latest Kardashian stunt on YouTube. …

According to Biden, Mavericks turns a profit because of its savvy real estate choices. “It’s all about the buildings we buy,” he says.”Certainly the operation of the schools isn’t profitable.”

But most of the time, Mavericks isn’t buying buildings. It’s striking deals with private landlords, then charging individual schools rent of $350,000 per year for five years, regardless of the price of the building. That’s the case in Homestead, North Miami, Kissimmee, and Pinellas. In Homestead, the school building’s current market value is $1.2 million, but the school is on the hook for $1.75 million in rent over five years.

That sum, combined with its management fee, means the Homestead school paid 28 percent of its revenue to Mavericks in Education in 2010.

Do read the entire New Times article. Though the excerpts above are extensive, I omitted so much information about the shaky business of online, for-profit charter schools like Mavericks in Education and its cousin, White Hat.

As for Mavericks in Education’s buildings: It seems that Rodberg, Biden, and others were profiting from selling charter school facilities, and, in Biden’s case, he was doing so for a school that had him on record as being its president.  Note that this School Property Development LLC brochure identifies Biden as both president of Mavericks in Education as well as part of the company responsible for “providing building services [via] project management and construction… for education companies.”

That’s the joy in running a for-profit charter school: The for-profit business that spins off of another for-profit business.

As to Biden’s saying he was Mavericks in Education president before being formally identified as such on documents: One can see that among these Mavericks in Education LLC filings, Biden is not listed as president until the December 05, 2011, annual report. In December 2011, the individual previously identified as president, Frank Attkisson, then becomes vice president until February 2013 and then disappears, with no one else listed as vice president. By December 2013, Biden is no longer listed as Mavericks in Education president and is replaced by no one.

It seems, however, that Biden was still using the title of “president” of Mavericks (and still considered by the public as president of Mavericks) for this September 20, 2016, Blog Talk Radio interview:

However.

According to archived “about” pages for Maverick, Frank Biden disappears in 2013– and he is not addressed as “president”– just as “Frank Biden.” From Maverick’s December 26, 2013, “about” page, which includes the following Frank-Biden-centric picture across the top of the page:

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About Us

Mavericks Charter High Schools are multi-campus tuition free public charter schools within urban and diverse communities, located throughout Florida, and rapidly expanding to other cities within the US. Since opening its campus in 2009, Mavericks’ teachers, students, administrators, leaders, and supporters have demonstrated a common commitment to the student’s success and their future.

Mavericks’ offers students who are challenged by the traditional approach to learning, a unique opportunity to earn a state-recognized high school diploma in a smaller, more individualized, self-paced high school environment. Mavericks Charter High Schools Florida are known for its exceptional educational approach and methodology, gaining recognizing by parents, students, and educators.

Message From Frank Biden:

“Our student’s benefit from a school designed to be simple, inviting, and reflective of a teen’s lifestyle. Mavericks is a place where everyone fits in and is welcome. It’s a great out-of-the-box experience where every student is given an opportunity to proceed at his or her own pace

Management Services: “Mavericks in Education” is the charter management organization for Mavericks Charter High Schools. It ensures that Mavericks high standards are maintained across all of its campuses and allows educators to focus on academics.

Same info a year later, on December 20, 2014.

By December 22, 2015, the page has gone generic, with no picture of any “CEO” or students, just the following:

Information

Mavericks Charter High Schools are multi-campus tuition free public charter schools within urban and diverse communities, located throughout Florida.  Since opening its campus in 2009, Mavericks’ teachers, students, administrators, leaders, and supporters have demonstrated a common commitment to the student’s success and their future.

Mavericks’ offers students who are challenged by the traditional approach to learning, a unique opportunity to earn a state-recognized high school diploma in a smaller, more individualized, self-paced high school environment. Mavericks Charter High Schools Florida are known for its exceptional educational approach and methodology, gaining recognizing by parents, students, and educators.

Message From CEO:

Our students benefit from a school designed to be simple, inviting, and reflective of a teen’s lifestyle. Mavericks is a place where everyone fits in and is welcome. It’s a great out-of-the-box experience where every student is given an opportunity to proceed at his or her own pace

Management Services: “Mavericks in Education” is the charter management organization for Mavericks Charter High Schools. It ensures that Mavericks High’s standards are maintained across all of its campuses and allows educators to focus on academics.

It seems that on the Mavericks “about” page, Frank Biden was replaced by “generic CEO” prior to the beginning of the 2015-16 school year. (He was there on August 01, 2015, and gone by Septemer 01, 2015.)

So, to recap this CEO shadiness: Frank Biden says he’s Mavericks president, but he isn’t associated formally with the title in Mavericks LLC annual filings until December 2011 following investigation by the Broward-Palm Beach New Times. According to those formal Mavericks LLC annual filings, Biden is dropped as president by December 2013, and no other president is listed, but the Mavericks website continues to feature Biden only as “Frank Biden,” absent any title. By September 2015, Biden is scrubbed from the Mavericks website and repalced with the generic “CEO” (though the title CEO was not previously stated in connection with his name on the Mavericks “about” page). despite all of this, in a September 2016 Blog Talk Radio show, Frank Biden is both addressed as and poses as Mavericks in Education president.

Meanwhile, back at the investigatory ranch:

On October 10, 2014, the Sun Sentinel published its own deep dive into Mavericks in Education, one steeped in fraud and failure. Some excerpts:

Mavericks in Education Florida launched a network of charter schools more than five years ago, drumming up publicity with prominent pitchmen and pledging to turn dropouts into graduates.

But more than a thousand pages of public records obtained by the Sun Sentinel raise questions about the private company’s management of its six charter high schools, including five in South Florida, which are publicly funded but independently operated.

Many of the company’s schools have been investigated and asked to return public dollars. Three have closed. Local, state or federal officials have flagged academic or other problems at Mavericks schools, including:

• Overcharging taxpayers $2 million by overstating attendance and hours taught. The involved schools have appealed the findings.

• Submitting questionable low-income school meal applications to improperly collect $350,000 in state dollarsat two now-closed Pinellas County schools.

• Frequent academic errors that include skipping state testsfor special-needs students, failing to provide textbooks and using outdated materials. …

Lauren Hollander, chief executive officer of Mavericks in Education, did not reply to repeated requests to comment publicly for this article. …

Mavericks schools have been repeatedly cited for flawed enrollment and attendance numbers, which Florida uses to determine how much public money charter schools get.

The Miami-Dade school district counted no more than 200 students during four visits to the Homestead school in February 2011. Yet the school had reported a 400-student count and 100-percent attendance on those days, the district found.

A Broward school district official discussed a similar discrepancy in a June 2012 email to district staff members. Broward school district officials accused the Fort Lauderdale school of inflating attendance numbers, according to the email.

An audit released by the Palm Beach County school district in 2013 found 300 discrepancies between theattendance records logged by teachers and those reported to the school district,and no evidence that 14 students enrolled by the Palm Springs school were actually taking classes, the report states. The school was forced to return $158,815.

Similar allegations were raised by two former teachers and one administrator who accused the Homestead or Palm Springsschools of cheating on attendance, grades and enrollment in three separate lawsuits. The lawsuits were settled and dismissed late in 2012, but other teachers made similar claims in interviews with the Sun Sentinel.

Now, here comes a problem of oversight of charter school *companies*:

Pegg, who oversees charter schools for the Palm Beach County school district, said problems with Mavericks in Education have frustrated district officials.State charter-school laws do not address the performance of management companies.

“The statute doesn’t give any kind of authority to hold those management companies accountable; we can only hold the schools accountable,”Pegg said. “We need to be able to have some authority with [management companies]. They are the ones taking the tax dollars.”

As to what really matters at a for-profit charter… well…:

In the last two years, complaints from school district officials evolved into more serious investigations by state and federal authorities.

The two Mavericks schools in Pinellas last year gave back $350,000 in state money after federal and state investigators looked into allegations of fraud.

The investigations began when a Pinellas parent complained that her son was pulled from class to complete an application for a low-income meal program — even though her family made too much money to qualify, according to U.S. Department of Education records. The students were told filling out the forms would help the school receive more money, the records allege.

The federal education department found “questionable, possible fraudulent, activities occurred with regard to Free & Reduced-price applications.” But because state tax dollars were involved, the agency forwarded the case to state investigators in January 2013.

By April, the Pinellas schools had returned the money. One went out of business and the other reorganized under new management.

In January 2017, Ohio-based “dropout recovery” chain, Bridgescape, purchased the six remaining Mavericks in Education schools in Florida. Bridgescape is operated by for-profit Edison Learning. According to the October 05, 2017, USA Today, Edison Learning’s “dropout recovery” schools are making money off of empty desks:

Last school year, Ohio’s cash-strapped education department paid Capital High $1.4 million in taxpayer dollars to teach students on the verge of dropping out. But on a Thursday in May, the storefront charter school run by for-profit EdisonLearning was mostly empty.

In one room, vacant chairs faced 25 blank computer monitors. Three students sat in a science lab down the hall, and another nine in an unlit classroom, including one youth who sprawled out, head down, sleeping.

Only three of the more than 170 students on Capital’s rolls attended class the required five hours that day, records obtained by ProPublica show. Almost two-thirds of the school’s students never showed up; others left early. Nearly a third of the roster failed to attend class all week. …

Auditors have accused for-profit dropout recovery schools in Ohio, Illinois and Florida of improperly collecting public money for vanished students.

ProPublica reviewed 38 days of Capital High’s records from late March to late May and found six students skipped 22 or more days straight with no excused absences. Two were gone the entire 38-day period. Under state rules, Capital should have unenrolled them after 21 consecutive unexcused absences. …

Though the school is largely funded on a per-student basis, the no-shows didn’t hurt its revenue stream. Capital billed and received payment from the state for teaching the equivalent of 171 students full-time in May. …

So-called “dropout recovery” schools are increasingly popular, with many setting up shop in poverty-stricken city neighborhoods. In Chicago this past year, about 8,000 students attended such schools. In Ohio in the 2014-2015 school year, more than 16,000 students did, including some who attended online-only programs.

For-profit school management companies like Capital’s parent, EdisonLearning, have rushed into this niche, taking advantage of the combination of public funding, an available population of students and lax oversight.

EdisonLearning and other for-profits sometimes sign contracts with local school districts to manage these dropout recovery schools. In Ohio and a few other states, though, companies have often operated them as charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run. …

In 2011, NBA Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson signed on to spread word of EdisonLearning’s newest enterprise: A chain of eight dropout recovery schools it had opened in Ohio the year before, calling them “Bridgescape” academies. …

EdisonLearning turned students into marketers, too, with Ohio Bridgescapes rewarding them with gift cards for referring new enrollees while maintaining high attendance. And the company hired a call center. At one point, Hoffman said, its employees were calling potential leads three times a day for 45 days before marking the lead cold. …

In January, EdisonLearning bought a chain of six for-profit charters in Florida called Mavericks in Education.

One can still find the Mavericks High page on the web, yet if one clicks on the “about” link, one is redirected, without explanation, to Bridgescape.

As for Frank Biden: He is now known as “a former charter schools executive,” for example, in this January 07, 2019, Washington Examiner article about Joe Biden’s then-anticipated announcement of his 2020 presidential run:

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s youngest brother believes the third time’s the charm for his older sibling to win the White House.

Frank Biden, 65, told the Palm Beach Post on Monday he expected his 76-year-old brother to mount a third bid for the Oval Office….

This isn’t the first time Frank Biden, a former charter schools executive, has publicly implored his brother to contest the presidency ahead of the next election cycle.

Once again, Frank Biden’s credentials are a bit sketchy. He advertises himself as being “president and founder of Cygnus International LLC, a real-estate development and consulting firm” however, a December 2011 Common Errant article about Biden’s IRS troubles could not confirm a connection between Biden and any Cygnus company registered in Florida.

Biden’s SPD company bio omits the statement about Biden’s alleged Cygnus connection (compare to Biden’s Bloomberg bio and PR Newswire bio, both of which open with Cygnus).

A 2018 Florida Politics announcement of “Joe Biden’s brother” joining Florida-based Berman Law Group omits any mention of Frank Biden as “president and founder of Cygnus International LLC, a real-estate development and consulting firm.” The announcement also omits Biden’s dual role as both for-profit charter school president and executive director of the for-profit that “approved and constructed” facilities for the same school:

Biden previously worked as executive director for School Property Development LLC, where he was responsible for approval and construction of educational facilities throughout Florida. Biden also worked as a White House legislative director during the Bill Clinton administration.

And, of course, there is no mention that Biden’s Mavericks in Education was at best a flop and at worst, a continued fiscal con in the name of “dropout academy.”

Sometimes its best to forego being the former sort-of president of a for-profit charter school chain riddled with controversy.

IMG_1492

Frank Biden

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Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

6 Comments
  1. Christine Langhoff permalink

    The apparent inability to use an apostrophe correctly in Mavericks promotional materials should earn the chain an F, it seems.

  2. Surely you are not implying the whole family is crooked.

    • Surely I am not. I have seen some info about Frank Biden’s involvement with charter schools, and I investigated. That is all.

  3. ira shor permalink

    Excellent investigative journalism, thank you, very imp to have this info about Frank Biden.

  4. LA Educator permalink

    Cory Booker has also enthusiastically promoted charter schools, & Beto O’Rourke’s wife is a charter school founder. While I am not going to let associations with for-profit charter schools be the death knell for my support for any given Democratic candidate as that would help promote Trump’s re-election – which has been an unmitigated disaster for education – however it is alarming that politicians on both sides of the political aisle continue to support this failed idea for education. What is more shameful is that many continue to profit from these failed enterprises.

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