First the mandatory disclaimer: This is MY blog. The opinions expressed do not in any way shape or form represent the opinions of Plymouth-Canton Patch. They do not pay me in money, food, or any other tradable commodity. These are MY OPINIONS. Nuff Said.
There is a new charter school in Plymouth Township called the Plymouth Scholars Charter Academy. It is located at 48484 N. Territorial Road, in Plymouth Township. It has been a lightning rod for anger since before the first shovel of dirt was moved.
Having said this, I need to get a couple of points across before folks decide to call me a charter school hater, because that is simply not true. I am a former board member for a public school district. I was around during the very beginnings of charter schools.Myself, and a couple of other boardmembers did not get all caught up in the hysteria about this new competition for students. I always felt that if our school district was doing it's job properly, we would have nothing to fear from charter schools. The unions obviously felt differently, but in the end, I felt that healthy competition is a good thing as long as the playing field is a level one.
I still feel that way.
So moving on, I didn't pay a lot of attention to the story, as I tend to gravitate more towards politics, but when I learned about who was involved with this school, I knew I had to attend a meeting involving nearby residents, and school officials.
Two names drew me there. Carl Berry, and Timothy Cronin.
Carl Berry is on the Board of Directors of Plymouth Scholars. He is also the former Chief of Police for Plymouth Township, and has longstanding ties to some of the current members of the Plymouth Township Board of Trustees. Now I'll not say anything about his time with the police department, but the fact that he is close to scoundrels like Treasurer Ron Edwards, and Supervisor Dick Reaume makes me more than a little skeptical of anything he has his hands in.
Timothy Cronin is legal counsel for Plymouth Scholars. The problem is that he is also legal counsel for Plymouth Township. He is serving two masters, and the way this whole thing came about, raises eyebrows to say the least.
I once spoke with Mr. Cronin. I was trying to get answers about the Township's obligation to follow Freedom Of Information laws. He absolutely refused to answer my questions, and basically treated me in a very hostile way. This told me that he was 100% complicit with the shady ways of the Plymouth Township Board of Trustees.
I do not trust this man.
With these two things in mind, I chose to go to a meeting with the main topic of discussion being the schoolhouse itself. There are a great many complaints from neighboring residents about the school being ugly, as well as other issues involving the day to day activities.
Well, having never seen the school, I thought how ugly could it be? It was just built, so it should be at it's aesthetic peak. Could it be that residents were just angry about this school being shoved down their throats, so they are unfairly picking apart the looks of it?
I had my doubts.
Then I arrived at the schoolhouse. I saw what folks were talking about. I was floored.
From the road, it looks kind of like a factory, or a manufacturing plant. It does not look like any school I have ever seen. I sticks out like a sore thumb in an area of homes that cost north of $500,000, and I can now understand the anger.
I parked my car, and decided to take a short walk around the building. It was during this walk that I discovered some truly alarming things.
This is a schoolhouse, not a school. I call it a schoolhouse because it is made of wood. Not quality wood mind you, but pressed wood. They built a school in a neighborhood of half million dollar homes, and they built it out of pressed wood. Yikes. It gets worse.
While I am still trying to wrap my brain around the whole pressed wood thing, I start noticing that nails are starting to come out of the building.
Nails? They nailed this schoolhouse together? What genius had that bright idea? People quit nailing things together in the 50's for cripes sake! Everyone knows that in Michigan nails start popping out after a couple of winters. That's why when we build a deck or whatever, we use screws.
This schoolhouse is a year old, and in 5 minutes I found at least 30 nails that were coming out of the walls. They look like small roofing nails. They are getting discolored. This is a way bigger problem than any paint color. This schoolhouse is going to be a disaster in less than ten years.
It's a disaster, and I can't see anything humanly possible that can be done to fix it. There are nails that after only one winter, are already sticking out a 16th on an inch. How do you fix that? What are they gonna do? Vinyl side the damn thing?
I was left wondering who approved this design? Who signed off on this? Who exactly thought this was a good idea?
Carl Berry is obviously one of them. Rocco Bellini is another.
I could immediately understand the white hot anger from folks who had invested their whole lives into this community. Your home is your life. It is the single biggest investment most folks will make in their lives, and it means the world to them.
At the meeting I not only heard from folks disgusted with this eyesore, but I also heard from a man whose home is a stones throw from a dumpster that gets emptied at 5:30 AM. We all know how loud that process is.
We heard from neighbors whose once quiet streets were now littered with scores of cars of parents who are picking their children up from school. Every single day this happens.
Every single day this happens, and it is far more than an annoyance. It is a huge safety hazard, and the folks running this school knew this was happening, and yet they let it continue.
The best question of the night was the simplest question.
A gentleman stood up and asked, "If you owned a home like mine, would you want this school next to it?"
Not one single representative of Plymouth Scholars Charter Academy had an answer for that question. The well dressed gentlemen from Grand Rapids stood mute.
Not one member of the Board of Directors had an answer for that question.
Carl Berry, who ended up getting very vocal at this meeting, stood mute when the question was asked.
Their silence on this issue was deafening. It was all the answer I needed.
As far as I can tell, none of the Board of Directors have any building experience. One look at the building actually tells you this. What kind of experience does this Board of Directors have?
After a little digging I found out a few things about the Fantastic Four.
Rocco Bellini: President of the Board of Directors for the Plymouth Scholars Charter Academy. He works for Jack Roush racing in Livonia. He has no known educational experience. If Plymouth Scholars were training engine builders, or looking for the next Carl Edwards, he would be a good fit. They are not, and he is not.
Carl Berry: Director of the Board of Directors of Plymouth Scholars Charter Academy. Cousin Carl is the former Chief of Police for Plymouth Township, as well as a good friend of Timmy Cronin, and Big Ron Edwards. If Plymouth Scholars were training children in police tactics or marksmanship, he might be a good fit. They are not, and he is not.
Rory Lafferty: Secretary of the Board of Directors of Plymouth Scholars Charter Academy. Mr. Lafferty in an insurance guy. He is Director of Government affairs for Health Alliance Plan. Personally, I have always thought of insurance as legalized theft. The nicest building in any city is usually owned by an insurance company. I rest my case. He might be a good fit if they were teaching these children how to survive under Obamacare, but they are not, and he is not.
Jake Davison: Treasurer of the Board of Directors for Plymouth Scholars Charter Academy.
Houston? We have a problem!
According to the Plymouth Scholars charter Academy website, Mr. Jake Davison is the Treasurer of the Board of Directors. The funny thing, is that I actually just spoke with Jake on the phone today, and he is not the Treasurer of the Board of Directors.
The only guy on the whole Board of Directors who I felt was actually qualified to be there, isn't there. Not only that, but according to Jake, there are supposed to be 5 (FIVE) members on the Board of Directors.
Another interesting fact is that Jake doesn't live within 50 miles of Plymouth Township, and he never has. If these guys don't live in the neighborhood, how can they truly be considered stakeholders?
One last nugget that my new friend Jake Davison freely offered was the fact that he had absolutely no educational background. He seemed quite proud of that fact. He told me that he had a friend at New Heritage Academies, and asked if he could be a Board of Directors member at one of their schools.
Jake was filling out his resume. Pure and simple.
That is how he was appointed to his position. A friend got him in. He told me that I should go to a Board of Directors meeting, and tell them I wanted to be on the board.
Somehow, I have the feeling that I may not be welcomed to the Board of Directors of Plymouth Scholars Charter Academy after they read this story. I don't see Carl, Rocco, and myself becoming BFF's anytime soon.
So the website is inaccurately portraying Jake Davison as Treasurer, and making no mention that they are required to have 5 boardmembers, which they don't.
This begs the question. Is it illegal to run a charter school and not have a Treasurer on it's Board of Directors? I am not a legal eagle like Mr. Timothy Cronin, but I am guessing it violates the law. I could be wrong. I don't know.
The plot thickens.
I know 2 of the Fantastic 4, oops, Fantastic 3, showed up for the meeting. I know why Mr. Davison wasn't there, and now I wonder about Mr. Lafferty? Is he still a Boardmember? Is this thing being run by only two people and Tim Cronin?
Is it the Fantastic 2 + Tim?
Heck, they really need a Treasurer right now. They are gonna need to be buying some more nails really soon. Maybe Big Ron Edwards will become their next Treasurer. He would love another money pot to stick his filthy hands into. That my friends, is a scary thought!
Wanna hear another scary thought? That schoolhouse would go up like a tinderbox if it were to catch fire. It would go up like a tinderbox, and Plymouth Township only has four firefighters on duty at any given time. It would go up like a two story tinderbox, and Plymouth Township does not possess a ladder truck.
That school houses over five hundred children when in session.
So let's recap what we have so far:
1. The schoolhouse is ugly. (Even the official from National Heritage Academies, which manages Plymouth Scholars, admitted at this meeting that his building is ugly.)
2. The day to day operations are pissing off the neighbors, and causing safety hazards on the neighboring streets.
3. This building is going to fall apart sooner, rather than later, based on the fact that they actually nailed it together. They might as well have used duct tape.
4. You can not trust their website to offer accurate information about who is actually making decisions about anything.
5. Property values obviously went down the minute ground was broken for this business. Make no mistake, this is a business. Charter schools are FOR PROFIT enterprises.
Charter schools are a profit based business. They are in the business of educating children for profit. That fact on it's own should not bother anybody. If they are able to provide a product that makes a family happy, good for them.
My problems arise when they manipulate the system to force their way into communities against the resident's will. I would have that problem with any business. Walmart does the same thing. They quietly purchase property, get it zoned the right way, then they spring a new store on the community. They do this whether they are wanted in the community or not. They show up armed with lawyers and money, and force their way in.
In many respects, this is what Plymouth Scholars charter Academy did, and that is where Carl Berry, Timmy Cronin, and the Plymouth Township Board of Trustees enter the equation.
If you remember only one thing from this story, remember that charter schools are a for profit business.
In my next blog, I will do what always needs to be done when trying to find the truth about something like this. I will follow the money.
I will follow the money, and reveal some startling facts. I will share the story of Carl Berry's Jack Nicholson/YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH moment. It was very telling. We will also talk about the public statement that Timmy Cronin wishes he never would have made.
This is a complicated and sordid tale, and everyone should be paying attention to it. This kind of thing could very well happen to you, and the folks who are running this township could care less.
It's all about power, money, and politics to them...