Board: Millions in taxpayer money wasted with Imagine

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NORTH PORT - Board members of Imagine School in North Port have cut ties with the parent organization, because they say it was a waste of taxpayer money.

Board members we talked to have expressed in the millions. Its money they say comes from local and state tax dollars, which is then sent to the bigger organization in Virginia, and they say they have been receiving very little in return.

School Principal Justin Matthews say the public charter school receives roughly $7,000 of taxpayer money per student, per year. "We receive a per pupil allotment based on state and local tax dollars."

With more than 1,100 students it comes to more than 7.5 million taxpayer dollars. According to their own documents, nearly a million of those taxpayer dollars went to the Imagine parent company, which is around12% of their annual budget. They also pay fees tacked onto their rent, which is more than $200,000.

The problem is the schools independent government body says they're not getting much for the money. Last week, they voted to cut ties, but those with the parent company say not so fast. They financed and started the whole thing. "We created a school that helps serve Sarasota," says Attorney for Imagine School Not for Profit, Shawn Arnold.

The parent company says they've helped with training, accounting, pooling of resources for things like benefits, technology, marketing, legal services and risk management to name a few.

"In the years where the school wasn't financially successful Imagine wrote off those loses. Now that the school is doing well, and in recent years very well, we are still there to provide them with the things they needed to do," says Arnold.

Another big assistance is supposed to be credit. The independent board however says recently the company couldn't help them acquire needed classroom space for the growing school, jeopardizing the agreement with the Sarasota County School Board. "We did not have enough classrooms for 10th grade," says Matthews.

The independent board acted on their own and leased nearby office space without financial help. The parent company says under their contract they are there to assist, but it is ultimately not their responsibility. If the school had issues with fees, they should have come to them, which they say they did not. "You sit down and talk about it. You don't have the unilateral right to write off a contract," says Arnold.

The local board was also able to secure its own financing for more new facilities without the parent company that includes a nearly 2 million-dollar loan for a gymnasium and classrooms. Matthews says it's simply help that the parent company can no longer offer. "It was just not able to be accomplished."

We did talk to one board member who said he's not surprised imagine is fighting so hard. He also says the local school has become a cash cow for the parent company, and they are going to continue to fight for the education dollars to stay right here.