Chartering New Lows

More fun and thievery in Ohio's charter-school program.

police stories! political clap-trap white-collar baddies
City Council honors Sewage King Julius Ciaccia, who let corruption flourish during his reign. - Walter Novak
City Council honors Sewage King Julius Ciaccia, who let corruption flourish during his reign.

It's no secret that Ohio's charter-school system is a piggy bank for crooks. If you can pass a job screening at Panda Express, you can qualify for millions of taxpayer dollars to open your own school.

Take the administrators of the defunct International Preparatory School, whose administrators Scene exposed in 2005 for paying themselves massive consulting fees and overcharging the state by inflating attendance, all while refusing for years to tell anyone where the money went ["Dream Killer," July 27, 2005].

But we figured you'd at least have to open a school to get access to Ohio's golden ATM card. Even the post office has policies against delivering huge piles of money to vacant fields and abandoned parking lots.

But now comes news that the Ohio Department of Education doled out more than $2.5 million to open 33 schools that don't technically exist.

Akron's Summit Academy received $895,000 to open five new schools, then decided that opening was way overrated. Harte Crossroads in Columbus mistakenly received an extra $100,000 in funding, which was only discovered after the school went belly-up last spring. Its financial records are such a mess that the state auditor declared them "unauditable." The money could be anywhere.

"If we can be that lax with $2.5 million of taxpayer money, then something is wrong with this charter-school system," says Sue Taylor, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. "Many of Ohio's public-school children don't have their fine-arts teachers. Foreign languages are being dropped from the curriculum . . . They can just blow off this money that kids desperately need."

The Department of Education now plans to audit every start-up grant recipient by next summer. Expected finding: "Oh yeah, we really f*&%#$ this up."

Good use of abuse
A Cleveland cop's been charged with felonious assault, and are department brass ever proud.

On June 30, Officer John Browning and his partner, Francis Santell, responded to a call of routine weirdness. A hammered guy had sneaked into a Holiday Inn Express three times that night, and was now passed out on a sixth-floor couch.

When the two cops arrived, they found a perp who didn't appreciate being awakened. Michael Fykes went berserko and a scuffle broke out. As the cops sprayed mace, a Holiday Inn guard helped them cuff Fykes. That's when Browning smacked the suspect in the face with his collapsible baton.

A few details of import: Fykes is black, the cops are white, and surveillance tapes were running.

After a four-month investigation, Browning was suspended without pay and charged last week. That's when Chief Michael McGrath hit the airwaves with a righteous fury. He touted the charge as an example of the department's ability to police itself, declaring that if a cop is accused of having "abused his authority, we will investigate it and, if necessary, we will bring criminal charges. Excessive force cannot and will not be tolerated."

But to police union chief Steve Loomis, it looked suspiciously like McGrath was using the incident to soothe a city worried about cop violence. Loomis doesn't go far out of his way to defend Browning, but he believes McGrath is "serving up a cop to the media on a silver platter . . . When was the last time you saw the chief of police on TV about anything? Now boom — he's front and center."

Indeed, we checked our files, and the last time a chief made a speech was during the Torso Killer Alert of 1935.

Perhaps the most telling indicator was the department's eagerness to spread the word. Even Scene received a fax moments after the charge was filed. Since we're not exactly darlings of McGrath or department flack Thomas Stacho, Punch had the release cast in bronze.

Unfortunately, neither Stacho nor McGrath returned our calls for this story, so it appears that things have returned to normal.

Immortalizing Ciaccia
During his reign as Cleveland's water commissioner, Julius Ciaccia seemed the model employee, repeatedly allowing contractors to overcharge the city and letting bribery scams flourish in his water department ["Why Are You Still Paying Him?" August 15]. Not even a slew of federal indictments against his underlings gave pause to Ciaccia's superiors. Upon retirement, he even landed a new job overseeing the region's sewer district.

All of which naturally means he's deserving of a lasting tribute. So City Council voted to name the new technology and security center at the Nottingham Filtration Plant in his honor. Councilman Mike Polensek, whose Collinwood neighborhood houses the plant, explained that Ciaccia worked very hard on the project and that this would be a "fitting tribute."

We're not sure what this means, other than it will probably be where the next indictments are handed down.

But Councilman & Resident Hammered Guy Zack Reed wasn't so sure Ciaccia deserved special treatment. "Maybe we need to look at the standards and criteria for renaming buildings," he suggests.

Translation: The feds are still handing out water-department indictments every other Tuesday. Perhaps naming a building after a guy who may soon be in the slam isn't such a good idea.

But alas, no one seemed to share Reed's concern. Council members simply added an amendment decreeing that when they get indicted, Ciaccia will return the favor by naming some sewers after them.

Chowless at 40 under 40
It's one of the biggest events in Cleveland — or so editors of Crain's Business like to say. Every year, the magazine honors "40 under 40," the city's brightest movers and shakers who have yet to reach the big 4-0.

Editors choose from a list of around 200 submissions, though the selection process is rather dubious. Our evidence: Punch didn't make it. Again. Even after we sent in 112 of those submissions. And $37. And a gift certificate to the Dress Barn.

But to business people, the event is a big deal — a chance to network, bask in adoration, and sample the luxury that comes with being anointed by the mercantile elite.

Yet according to one honoree, the celebration at Landerhaven last week seemed more fitting for Scene's Art Modell Awards. Some 300 people spent $55 a head, expecting broiled salmon and bean amandine. Instead they found greasy finger food. By the end, people were wrestling over the crumbs.

Nor were the awards exactly mantel-worthy. Winners received paper certificates, like the kind you get in elementary school for perfect attendance.

"This sort of thing would never fly in New York," says one honoree, before smartly reconsidering his position. "Though if I were in New York, I would never be nominated at all."

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