with interest

Closed charter school using private funds to issue unpaid teachers their summer paychecks

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Matchbook Learning CEO Sajan George sent a letter to teachers from Michigan Technical Academy on Monday saying there may be ways to make sure they get paid for work performed during the school year.

Teachers at a recently closed charter school received a letter today saying they would in fact receive the summer paychecks they are due for work performed during the school year.

Teachers at the Michigan Technical Academy were told last month that money that was supposed to pay them would instead go to pay off the school’s debts. In an email at the time, the school’s management company, Matchbook Learning, said the matter was out of its control.

Company CEO Sajan George sent followup letters to update the situation, including one at the end of July describing attempts to find other ways to pay teachers.

But attempts to recoup funds that were going to pay debts failed or were too slow. So the company decided to pay teachers out of its own funding, using private donations to foot the bill, George said in today’s letter. 

“Even though Matchbook has not been paid itself in the past five months, we have come up with the money to make our employees whole,” George wrote. “Matchbook will continue to pursue the funding owed to us, but whether we receive it or not, we are using this funding from private sources to fulfill our commitment to you.”

A payment made, with interest, this week to cover two previous paychecks, and another final payment will be made on Aug. 30, according to the letter. Here’s the letter he sent:

August 22, 2017
Dear Former Employee:

As I’ve related in my previous letters, we have been doing everything possible to get you the summer pay you’re owed.

We’ve had little success, as the bond holders have insisted on taking the July and August State Aid payments entirely for themselves. The Michigan Finance Authority has informed us that, while they are sympathetic, they can offer no assistance. CMU has offered no help. And working through the court system to get a Receiver appointed is going to take
longer than we thought – too long to benefit the people who need these payments to be able to make ends meet.

So we are paying you ourselves. Even though Matchbook has not been paid itself in the past five months, we have come up with the money to make our employees whole. Funds have been made available, through the generosity of our supporters, to pay employees the summer pay they are due. Matchbook will continue to pursue the funding owed to us, but whether we receive it or not, we are using this funding from private sources to fulfill our commitment to you.

We have already ordered payments to be made via direct deposit from our payroll processing vendor Paychex into your bank accounts that Paychex has on file from our last payroll run.

Payments covering what was owed from July 30th and August 15th, should be deposited into your bank accounts today and tomorrow – with interest from those dates. Your final payment will be made before it is due on August 30th by the end of this week. Any questions can be directed to hr@matchbooklearning.com.

We are a small nonprofit organization, but we feel an overriding commitment to the people who worked so hard to benefit our students all year. We know this has been a challenging process, but I’m pleased at least to be able to provide you with the pay you deserve.

Thank you very much.
Sincerely,

Sajan George
Founder & CEO, Matchbook Learning, a non-profit corporation

new schools

New $85 million Englewood high school to focus on science and technology, careers

PHOTO: Chicago Public Schools
A rendering of the new $85 million high school planned in Englewood.

Chicago Public Schools announced Monday that it will open a “state-of-the-art” high school focusing on career-preparation and math, science and engineering education in Englewood, a South Side community where the district is closing several high schools.

Englewood STEM High School already under construction, will open next fall with just freshman and add a grade each subsequent year until it becomes a full-fledged 9-12 school in the 2022-23 school year, according to a press release issued by the school district.

The school will be the district’s ninth “early college” STEM high school, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math. The district is building the $85 million school on the site of Robeson High School, which was closed over the summer.

Englewood STEM High School will be “a brand new, state-of-the-art, three-story facility that will include world-class multipurpose educational spaces, a modern outdoor sports facility, and a school-based medical center for use by both students as well as community residents,” according to the district’s statement. Students will be able to earn college credits and certificates through a partnership with Kennedy-King College. The school will also offer vocational programs in information technology and health sciences and will provide mentoring, internships and other work experiences.

“We are thrilled to bring together Englewood students in the state-of-the-art high school they deserve with world-class academic programming that will ensure the new school rivals the city’s best,” district CEO Janice Jackson said in a statement.

A rendering of the new $85 million high school planned in Englewood.

The school is intended to attract students in the Robeson, Hope and Harper school areas who leave their neighborhoods for higher-rated schools elsewhere. Both Hope and Harper are slated to close. TEAM Englewood, the fourth school closing, doesn’t have attendance boundaries.

The district named Conrad Timbers-Ausar as the new school’s principal. Timbers-Ausar was previously principal of charter school Urban Prep Academy for Young Men, in Bronzeville. He was the founding principal at two alternative schools, Ombudsman West and Ombudsman South, and has taught history, graphic design and entrepreneurship at the Chicago International Charter Schools Ralph Ellison campus, where he was twice voted teacher of the year.

Future of Schools

Chicago’s public school system is still shrinking, new data shows

PHOTO: Creative Commons / Charles Wiriawan

After 15 years of consecutive drops, the number of students enrolled in Chicago’s public schools fell again this year.

Enrollment dropped 2.7 percent, to 361,314 students, from the previous fall, according to a count taken on the 20th day of school. New data were released Friday. (The district also released new school ratings on Friday. You can find your school’s latest rating here.)

Size matters, because the number of students determines how many critical state dollars a district receives. In Chicago, state funding accounts for roughly 30 percent of the district budget, including paying into the employee pension fund.

At the school level, per-student funding determines how many teachers a principal can hire, whether or not there are librarians and arts teachers, and how many programs are offered. Principals received this school year’s budgets last spring based on prior year counts.

Schools that lost students will not lose funding for this year; however, 54 schools that anticipated growth and that did not hit targets will lose money. The average adjustment per school is $59,000, with $3.2 million in total forfeited, the district said. The district said in a statement that it will not eliminate any jobs as a result.

On the flip side, the district also announced that schools that gained students since last school year would receive additional funding — to total $15.5 million across 307 schools. That’s to account for budgeting that was based on previous year counts.

“The district’s improved financial position means we can support growing schools and invest more in schools where enrollment is declining with funds specifically designed to support schools that are underenrolled,” said Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson.

Plans to support schools losing population include such assists as a $10 million small schools fund and a new underenrolled schools policy — passed by the board this week — that codifies alternatives to closure.

The number of students in Chicago charters declined by 1 percent to total 54,569, and the number of prekindergarten students dropped by less than 1 percent, too, to 17,668, despite a citywide push under Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Chicago schools aren’t the only ones shrinking. Enrollment is down across the state. A declining birth rate, fewer immigrants, and a population in retrenchment are all to blame.

District projections show Chicago schools losing another 20,000 students across the next three years. The trends mirror population drops in Chicago, which has about 182,000 fewer residents than it did 18 years ago, according to U.S. Census data. More than 220,000 black residents have left the city since the year 2000.