EJ Montini on “The secret lives of charter schools”


by David Safier

Leave it to EJ Montini, the caustic, curmudgeonly, it's-funny-but-it-ain't-funny columnist for the Republic to lay out one of the problems with Arizona charter schools: Nobody knows what they do with their the taxpayers' money.

[Arizona politicians] happily allow these particular public schools to keep secret the salaries of administrators and teachers; to have unelected school boards that can be stacked with the family members, and to hand out lucrative contracts to board members and administrators without competing bids.

He does a wonderful job of skewering Goldwater Institute's Clint Bolick for his blatant hypocrisy on the matter. First Montini compliments G.I.'s brainpower by saying it "fuels the brains of many Arizona legislators, who otherwise would run on empty." Then he notes that Bolick is one of the directors of BASIS Schools Inc., which means Bolick has a vested interest in keeping salaries quiet and contracts selective.

One thing Montini doesn't mention, so I'll add it here, is that BASIS Schools Inc. is a for-profit corporation. Each BASIS school is nonprofit, but 70% of the funds they get from taxpayers is sucked up by the for-profit corporation, where the money disappears from sight. While people can get a picture of how nonprofits spend their funds by looking at their 990 tax forms that are posted on the web, for-profit tax returns are private. One small example: we used to know the salary BASIS founder Michael Block received when all of BASIS was nonprofit. Now that BASIS Schools Inc. is expanding rapidly in Arizona and beginning to open schools across the country, for all we know, he makes millions a year. It's all hidden behind the corporation's for-profit status.


  1. Thanks once again Mr. Safier for posting this article ! My fiance and I attended last week on President’s day a committee hearing in which representative Farnsworth from Gilbert was trying to pusth through a bill that would exempt charter schools in Arizona from federal regulations ! I was there to testify against it and witness with incredulity the very fact that a bill of this nature would even be considered. Please keep us informed on this issue and I will comment on this thread if I witness anything at and outside of these hearings since I am usually there every day from morning until close of business.
    Leonard 🙂

  2. If you’re a for profit company, your prime purpose is to make a profit. And if you can pay yourselves more than a third of a million when you have a few schools, each new school should bring in a bit more revenue, which means you can increase your . . . now the word is “profit,” not “salary,” right?

    I admit to some ambivalence about charters, because some do a good job of educating their students, but when it comes to for-profit charters or for-profit Management Organizations, I have no ambivalence whatever. Schools that get their funding from taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be run for a profit, nor should the Management Organizations, like BASIS Schools Inc., that basically control what the schools do.

  3. Well we do know this.
    In 2007, the Blocks made $315,000. The next year they made $353,869.
    The Blocks then created a for-profit corporation to manage their schools. That keeps us from knowing their salaries, but in fiscal 2011, the non-profit paid the Blocks’ company $9.8 million out of $13.7 million in total spending.
    To put this in perspective, John Pedicone, Superintendent in TUSD makes $211,00 to manage 99 schools and 50,000 students.

    Hard to believe this scam is legal.