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No final paychecks for castoff teachers

NOTE: The CEO of Imagine Schools is multimillionaire Dennis W. Bakke, author of Joy at Work: A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job.


Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries recommends, "This book provides valuable ideas for leaders who wish to build or strengthen organizations using sound principles."

According to its website "Imagine Schools is an Equal Opportunity Employer. All applicants will be considered without regard to race, sex, color, creed, national origin, veteran status, age, marital status, disability or any other status protected by state and local law." They'll be hired; they just won't be paid.


Central New York Charter School teachers were supposed to walk out of the school Thursday unemployed, but with fat paychecks - final payment for completing the school year.

The checks - worth nearly $6,000 for each teacher - never came. The charter school's board of directors has told the teachers it can't afford to pay them right now.

"This is a crisis for us," said Kelly Norcross, a second-grade teacher. "Some of us are single moms. All of us have bills. All of us were told we'd get this money and budgeted accordingly. We are not asking for anything other than the money we have already earned."

Norcross, like her 44 fellow teachers, works 10 months a year. A portion of the teachers' pay is withheld during the school year so they can continue to receive checks in July and August.

Because the charter school will not reopen next year - the State University of New York revoked its charter in March - the board said it would pay the teachers Thursday, their last day of employment, Norcross and Executive Director Larry Williams said.

Board Chairman Rick Capozza said the board is doing everything it can to pay the teachers as quickly as possible. He could not guarantee that the teachers will be paid in full, saying the defunct school has many creditors and little money.

"Right now we just don't have the information to even know for sure how much money we have," said Capozza, who denied he promised that the checks would be available Thursday. "All the accounting has been done by the management company running the school, and we are waiting for more information from them. Paying the teachers is a high priority. We are doing everything we can."

The school also owes money to the bondholders who financed the school's start-up costs, the New York State Teachers Retirement System and the management company, Imagine Schools, which has not been paid in two months, Capozza said.

He stopped shortof criticizing Imagine Schools, but said it has been a slow, piecemeal process of getting the financial information the board needs.

Imagine Schools Regional Vice President Thomas Biondolillo referred all questions to Capozza.

The teachers don't see how the school will be in a better position to pay them later in the summer. All of the state aid money owed to the school from the Syracuse City School District the charter school's largest source of revenue has already been paid, according to James Petrie, the city district's chief financial officer.

Capozza said Imagine Schools led the board to believe there may be some grant money it can still collect and some small state aid payments from other districts that had children at the charter school.

Williams, based on information he's received from Imagine, said there's money to pay the teachers.

"Yes there are vendors and others that need to get paid too, but no one should get paid until the teachers get paid. That's got to be the highest priority. They've already done this work," he said.

Capozza, based on the sketchy information he has from Imagine, said his best guess is that the school doesn't have the money to pay both the teachers and the retirement system, and the board fears state law will compel them to pay the retirement system first.

"We are researching that," Capozza said.

Williams said the teachers make about $35,000 a year, meaning the two months of pay they are missing is about $5,833 per teacher.

The teachers are eligible for unemployment, which will provide a portion of their salary once it kicks in next month. Most do not yet have jobs for next year, said Norcross, who added that she fears losing the apartment in Camillus she has rented for three years unless the charter school pays up.

Kristin Sullivan, another second-grade teacher, owns her home in Westvale but must make mortgage and car payments.

"This is terrible and puts us all in bad situation," Sullivan said. "There are some husband-and-wife teams here, so that means they are both out their payments. It's scary."

— Greg Munno
Syracuse Post-Standard





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