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Thursday, April 17, 2014

GRAND TRAVERSE ACADEMY BOARD INSIDER RIDES THE GRAVY TRAIN: Next Stop Reformville?



MEET THE NEW NOSS...(ALMOST) THE SAME AS THE OLD BOSS! 
In the first installment in a new series, Miss Fortune examines insider deals and potential conflicts of interest at the Grand Traverse Academy.

The seat Traverse City optometrist Mark Noss used in his role as President of the Grand Traverse Academy's Board of Directors had barely cooled before he began heating up a new perch—as head of the Academy's new education service provider, Full Spectrum Management, LLC.   

Full Spectrum came kicking and screaming into the world on March 19 at 4:31pm when Traverse City attorney David Rowe faxed its incorporation paperwork to Lansing. 

Coincidentally, the Academy made its selection of Noss's brand new firm—newly-hatched, with no direct experienceofficial on the very same day.  

The Academy's Board of Directors passed a resolution on May 12, 2012 establishing a management fee cap of 12 percent of revenue, and the contract with Ingersoll's Smart Schools Management, Inc. stated that the management fee should “not exceed $2,000,000 in any fiscal year.”  While the details of the Academy's agreement with Noss have not been made public, it's likely that his shiny new firm could expect to receive major bankmillions of taxpayer money over the next school year.

Grand Traverse Academy co-founder Steven Ingersoll faces federal charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and tax violations, accusations that publicly surfaced about a month after the school severed ties with his management company.

The Traverse City Record-Eagle has reported that Doug Bishop, the attorney for Grand Traverse Academy, said Ingersoll suggested the school switch management companies

"I don't know exactly, but I think he probably thought his situation might be a distraction," Bishop said.

And while Noss has yet to be spotted prowling the streets of Traverse City in a vintage Alpine White Cadillac Eldorado, he appears to have benefited personally and professionally from his association with the Grand Traverse Academy—and Steven Ingersoll.

SCHOOL DAZE...VISION OR MIRAGE?

Ingersoll and Noss both graduated from Ferris State College - College Of Optometry in 1980.

But it wasn't until Ingersoll and Noss teamed up to form the Excel Institute, a multi-disciplinary collaborative effort with psychologist Patricia Engler and Battle Creek optometrist Bruce Christensen, that the duo's private "vision therapy" business really took off. 

And with nearly 1,200 students, the Grand Traverse Academy was a fertile hunting ground for clients for the Excel Institute's "education remediation programs".

Formed in Michigan on January 18, 2005, the company was registered on behalf of Ingersoll by attorney Doug Bishop. If you've been paying attention, you'll remember that Bishop is the Grand Traverse Academy's attorney and "media contact".

The Traverse City Record-Eagle revealed today that Bishop, a Trustee at Traverse City's Northern Michigan College (NMC), stated in an email to William Myers, the NMC board’s vice chair his opposition to recording the board's meetings:
 “As always I am against video taping but will support the majority of the board. If we were to implement a video recording policy of our regular meetings, in our primary meeting spot (which is what TCAPS does), put them on line for a short time and then archive them for the current year, we would have met every legitimate concern. If the (Record-Eagle) didn’t think that was sufficient I would have a hard time not saying publicly “F --- em” (“That’s a joke Tim”).”

(Bishop reportedly spelled out the obscenity in his email...sounds like the good barrister just earned a new nickname!)

CAN'T YOU SEE LITTLE JOHNNY NEEDS GLASSES? AND TUTORING?

A parent whose child attended the Grand Traverse Academy (and asked not to be identified) shared the child's experience exclusively with Miss Fortune. The parents were told their child "needed eye care", and eventually took the child to Dr. Noss for examination. The proposed education benefits never materialized and, when pressed, the parent stated  the Academy eventually admitted its error.

In addition, the parents claim that when the child's glasses were examined by another local optical company, they were told that the glasses had virtually "no effect" for poor vision and were so fragile that breakage was inevitable.

FULL SPECTRUM, INDEED! EXCEL INSTITUTE, ICON LEARNING JOIN FORCES 
 
Noss/Excel office
In February, 2011, the Excel Institute and icon Learning (an Excel  subsidiary) moved into the building housing Noss's optometry practice, Full Spectrum Eyecare, on Munson Avenue in Traverse City.

icon Learning is described by Noss as "a tutoring method developed around the concept that students who may be struggling with academics may not have learning disorders. Many have simply developed incorrect learning habits that affect the way lesson content is perceived and absorbed."

And guess what, parents? icon Learning specializes in providing "visual learning" services for students from 3rd to 12th grade...the same grade range as the Grand Traverse Academy!

As recently as November 2013 (while still President of the Grand Traverse Academy Board), Noss held an "open house" in his role as the a Developmental Optometrist and Director of the Excel Institute. The event was pitched to parents as an opportunity to learn how "Integrated Visual Learning may help children struggling in school". The Excel Institute, LLC also has offices in Grayling and Alpena, both locations operated under the direction of Noss's Full Spectrum Eyecare.

Although Noss and Ingersoll both regularly use the term  "Developmental Optometrist" to imply that professional certification, neither is board-certified in vision therapy by the College of Optometrists in Vision Development.  
  
FROM TRANSPARENCY TO OPACITY: HOW PUBLIC MONEY BECOMES PRIVATE...

A for-profit company paid by a charter school, even a company that operates most of the school, does not have to disclose spending details or how much profit it makes. 

Board members can often easily justify insider transactions because they know the board member and often trust the person. But the board needs to look at the transaction from the public's perspective, realizing that the purchase (or access) can plant seeds of doubt in people's minds.

Michigan’s updated charter school law, which went into effect on March 28, 2012, eliminates the cap on charter schools while adding accountability measures for the schools and the education management organizations (EMOs) they contract with. One completely new section deals with the management agreements charter schools enter into with their EMOs, requiring annual reporting, public disclosure, and ensuring no conflicts of interest between the charter school’s non-profit board of directors and the for-profit EMO. 

Still, these accountability measures have yet to be implemented and tested. 

NEXT STOP REFORMVILLE? NOT LIKELY!

With Steve Ingersoll as a precedent—for example, GTAS, LLC, one of Ingersoll's entities, billed the Grand Traverse Academy nearly $250,000 in 2013 for "custodial services—and a board stacked with cronies, it's unlikely that the Academy will institute any new financial restrictions on Noss.

Remember, that same bunch let Ingersoll get away with nearly $2.5 million in prepaid management fees the Academy "couldn't afford" before they woke up and smelled the Starbucks...money that likely will not be coming back.

If anyone spots an Arctic White Cadillac Eldorado cruising the streets of Traverse City, drop Miss Fortune a line.

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