UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Education audit is a broad review of charter schools across the country and not limited to Academica or the Mater Academy network it manages, a fact confirmed by the federal agency.
Academica disputes the U.S. Department of Education’s initial findings and said they have responded to the agency.
We’ve updated the headline for clarity.
ORIGINAL POST: The U.S. Department of Education is investigating the business practices of Florida’s largest for-profit charter school operator, according to a Miami Herald scoop. The federal agency is concerned about conflicts of interest between Academica Corp. and the Mater Academy network it manages.
The auditors found that three of the schools in the Mater network — Mater Academy, Mater High and Mater East — entered into leases with development companies tied to the Zulueta family. Two of the leases were executed while Zulueta sat on the Mater board.
In addition, Mater Academy hired an architectural firm from 2007 through 2012 that employs Fernando Zulueta’s brother-in-law, state Rep. Erik Fresen, the report said.
“We identified four related-party transactions, two of which indicated, at a minimum, the appearance of conflicts of interest between Mater Academy and its CMO [charter-management company],” the Mater Academy in Hialeah Gardens and its nonprofit support organization, Mater Academy Foundation.
“Mater Academy shares the same board of directors with the foundation and based on our review of the board of directors meeting minutes at Mater Academy, there is evidence of Mater Academy’s board of directors transferring public funds to the foundation,” the auditors noted.
Academica was at the center of a 2011 Miami Herald investigation of charter school business deals. You can read that series, Cashing In On Kids, here.