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Thursday, May 12, 2016

CHARMLESS OFFENSIVE: Grand Traverse Academy Spinmeisters & A Self-Serving Story

During an interview this morning with Ron Jolly on WTCM NewsTalk 580, Grand Traverse Academy Superintendent Susan Dameron and board member Lea Piche may have deliberately mislead Jolly's audience during a discussion about the charter school's proposed 29,700 square foot classroom addition.

Asserting the school's management company, Mark Noss' Full Spectrum Management, LLC, is financing the new building on behalf of the school, Dameron stated there'll be no payments the first year, interest-only payments the second year, and by the third year, the Academy will negotiate with "the bank" to assume the outstanding loan.

Dameron must have forgotten the 20-year lease the Grand Traverse Academy board signed with MDN Development, with its $30,000 introductory monthly lease payment beginning February 2017.

First, Noss is building the expansion under his development arm, MDN Development, LLC, on Grand Traverse Academy land. 

Noss owns the building, not the charter school. 

In addition, the Academy board signed a 20-year lease agreement with Noss on February 2, 2016 requiring the school to make those $30,000 monthly lease payments beginning February 2017. The lease payments increase to $38,000 by the second year. (In fact, Lea Piche was one of four members attending the February 2nd special meeting who voted unanimously to approve the lease.)

According to the accompanying lease resolution (shown below), the Grand Traverse Academy explored and failed to secure direct construction funding for its planned expansion, so Full Spectrum Management’s Mark Noss and his MDN Development, LLC stepped in with an offer to underwrite the construction of the new building and lease it back to the school. 

And although the resolution claims that “the lease parameters meet EMO and related party entity facility leasing guidelines recommended by the Michigan State Board of Education”, recommendations are not laws. 

You see, charter schools want to have it both ways. 

They claim to be “public” when it comes to taking taxpayer dollars, but “private” when it comes to accountability.

If you’d only read the “approved minutes” of the Grand Traverse Academy board's February 2 special meeting, you might think the lease term runs three years, ending with an option for the Academy to purchase the building from Noss on February 1, 2019 for $3,900,000. 

But you'd be wrong. 

And if you thought a portion of the first year's $30,000 monthly lease payment (escalating to $38,000 monthly by the second year) would be credited toward the final price, reducing the $3,900,000 purchase amount, wrong again. 

The lease defines the length of the agreement “for a term beginning on the date lessor closes a loan from Traverse City State Bank in connection with a contemplated expansion on the premises and ending on June 30, 2036.” 

Without mentioning any specific dollar amounts, Dameron claimed during this morning's interview that Mark Noss is charging the Academy exactly what he's borrowing from the bank. 

But how do we know how much Noss is borrowing?

If Dameron can confidently make that statement, then she should back it up — with documents.

Further clouding the issue by implying the school is financing the new building through the management company, Dameron apparently is unaware Michigan law prohibits a charter school from making that financial deal.

We do know how much the Grand Traverse Academy board has already agreed to pay Mark Noss/MDN Development for the new building: $3,900,000.

We don't know how much Noss is borrowing from Traverse City State Bank, but we sure know how much he's charging the Grand Traverse Academy!

Near the end of the 30-minute segment, Jolly took calls from listeners.

One caller asked about the “$600,000”, an obvious reference to the recent revelation (made by the U. S. government in documents filed March 29, 2016 in Steven Ingersoll's ongoing federal case) that between April 8, 2014 and March 1, 2016, Steven Ingersoll received a total of $627, 624.14 from Full Spectrum Management. All of that money went into accounts owned by Steven Ingersoll and his solely owned entities.

Dameron piped up, telling the caller that $600,000 was not missing, and that the Grand Traverse Academy had accountability for all that money

Funny, I wouldn't expect the Academy to be able to account for money that went from Noss to Ingersoll.

Maybe Dameron can explain why Noss transferred $12,500 to Old Y, a shuttered Bay City building Ingersoll once used for his Bay City Academy.

Accountability, baby! 

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