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Financial Trouble at Merrick Academy, Part 2: Parents Angry About Wasted Money

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TWC News: Financial Trouble at Merrick Academy, Part 2: Parents Angry About Wasted Money
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Most city charter schools share space in public school buildings, something that's led to friction over whether they should be there at all. One charter has avoided that issue by renting private space. But at what cost? NY1 looked closely at the Queen's charter's balance sheet and found some unusual payments, like paying double for rent. Lindsey Christ filed part two of her exclusive story.

At Merrick Academy Charter School much of the public money that's supposed to go towards educating students is actually going towards real estate.

Parents are angry.

"There's rules that should be followed, that wasn’t followed,” said parent Kenneth Samaroo.

Several members of the school's board of trustees agree, saying their chairman, Gerald Karikari, has been making decisions without consulting the rest of them, like signing a new multi-million dollar lease while the school was still paying rent on its old lease. In January, students moved to the new building and, as we've told you, there've been a lot of issues like no heat and a sewage back-up.

There's also been a lot of costs.

“The totals for construction were about half a million dollars to get everything done. In order to get out of the old site's lease, we had to do a buyout of $462,000. So with all of those figures adding up, including the rent that we paid when no one was in the building, it's roughly around $1.5 million,” said board member Michael Zampella.

And every dollar counts. Merrick gets $7.5 million in taxpayer money each year, the same amount per student as other city schools, but at Merrick much less makes it to the classroom.

“They're saying yes, yes, yes, but I haven't seen anything yet,” said parent Linda Downer.

The new lease isn't the only issue. The school's financial statements include several major costs that don't show up in other charters' reports.

For instance, Merrick reports spending about a $1 million over five years on what's called repairs and maintenance, several times the amount reported by other city charters in rental space. Merrick's accountant says those costs include cleaning and pest control, and although the school has two full-time custodial positions, he says they haven't always been filled.

“There's a lot of things that haven't been done right. It's absolutely not right,” said parent Neera Samaroo.

So who is ultimately responsible for charters like Merrick Academy? We'll look at that in part three of our investigation.

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