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Financial Trouble at Merrick Academy, Part 3: Tracking Responsibility for Queens Charter School's Current State

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TWC News: Financial Trouble at Merrick Academy, Part 3: Tracking Responsibility for Queens Charter School's Current State
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All week, NY1 has been telling viewers about issues at one Queens charter school - issues with the building, the Board of Trustees and use of taxpayer money. In part 3 of her investigation, NY1's Lindsey Christ looks at who is responsible for charter schools like Merrick Academy and what they have, or have not, done in this case.

The heat hasn't been working, the kitchen is not up to code and members of the board of trustees say they often have no idea what their chairman is doing with the school's money.

But that's just the start. In the past three-and-a-half years, there have been seven principals at Merrick Academy, and now, they're looking for an eighth.

"I'm disappointed right now," said parent Linda Downer. "These conditions are not acceptable at all."

The city's Department of Education has no say over charters like Merrick. In this case, it's a state board, the SUNY Charter School Institute. It was SUNY that let Merrick open in 2000 and re-authorizes it to stay open every five years. In between, SUNY sends evaluators to check on the school's progress and is supposed to review annual financial statements and approve any leases.

When asked whether it's reviewing Merrick's current state, given the laundry list of problems, a SUNY spokesperson said that the school will be evaluated thoroughly next year, when it's up for its next five-year renewal.

Merrick was started by a for-profit company, Victory Education Partners. The state has since outlawed for-profit charter managers, but existing relationships were allowed to continue.

Merrick pays Victory at least $750,000 a year, but the areas where Victory says it helps the school, like staffing, academics and operations, have all been riddled with problems.

While there is no indication that SUNY plans to intervene any time soon, its own evaluators found the school in disarray as far back as 2011, writing, in part, "The absence of an effective leadership structure since February 2010, coupled with the decline in student achievement, reflects a failure of the board."

Years later, that's exactly what several board members say.

"As a board, we are responsible to ensure the safety and well-being of the students, and we failed," said Michael Zampella, a member of the school's board.

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