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Financial Trouble at Merrick Academy, Part 1: Investigation Reveals Finances Don't Add Up at Charter School

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Charter schools are privately run, but they're funded with taxpayer money. There are questions now about how millions of those taxpayer dollars have been used at one Queens charter school. A NY1 investigation has found the management of that school may not be following the rules when it comes to spending all that money. Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

There's something rotten at Merrick Academy Charter School, something besides the raw sewage that leaked into the basement in recent weeks.

The 500-student school was supposed to start 2014 in a new building, a former Catholic School, but that was delayed by several days, leaving parents to scramble for childcare.

“Most of the time there's hardly any heat,” said one student.

“The cafeteria is not working right now,” said another.

“The bathroom in the lunchroom, there's only one sink and it barely works,” said a third student.

At the school's Board of Trustees meeting last week, angry parents demanded an explanation.

“The building should have been inspected and cleared before anybody moved in here,” said one parent.

Charter school boards are supposed to make all major financial and operational decisions. But several trustees say they never even saw, let alone inspected or voted on, the 10-year multi-million dollar lease.

“Two other board members and I had no knowledge of this lease being signed in regards to the new building,” said board member Michael Zampella.

And if they had known?

“There is no way I ever would ever have agreed to the signing of this lease for many reasons,” said Zampella.

NY1 obtained a copy of the lease and the only name on it is Gerald Karikari, board chairman at Merrick Academy since 2004. The lease began a full year before the school moved in, meaning for at least 12-months, it was renting two buildings. The lease terms suggest the public charter school is now responsible for major costly repairs to the church-owned building.

Karikari told us the board had voted on the lease but now that documents and other board members contradict that claim, he has refused NY1’s many attempts to speak with him.

These are not the first management issues or allegations of impropriety involving Merrick Academy. Years ago, several founding board members, including state Sen. Malcolm Smith and Rep. Gregory Meeks, resigned amidst reports tying them to another questionable real estate deal involving the school.

In the second part of NY1’s investigation, we will look at what we know about where all the money is going now and what it means for the students.

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