New Millennium Director Questions Withholding Funds

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By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
With the first day of school less than two weeks away, New Millennium Charter School  Director Dr. Jerri Haynes appeared before the school board during the public input segment of the Aug. 5 meeting to ask why the monthly FTE funds meant for the school had not yet been released.  The question became such an involved matter that the board amended the agenda to include the New Millennium FTE money so board members could try to sort the matter out and vote on it if need be.
FTEs, or Full Time Equivalents, are funds received from the state department of education, based on student population counts taken periodically throughout the school year, as well as the number of students receiving ESE services for disabilities and other special needs.  ESE needs are taken into account and translate into extra FTEs.  New Millennium was receiving FTEs for 23  K – 3rd grade students, based on their most recent student count, plus an extra 4.5 FTEs for students receiving ESE services.  New Millennium had received its monthly allotment through June of 2014; Haynes was inquiring about the payment for the month of July (approximately $15,000), which she said she should have received already.  It had not shown up, and now it was August.  The August payment would be due the following week.
School Superintendent Doug Brown replied that he had withheld the funds because the school board office had received a copy of an eviction notice filed against the school by the Madison County Recreation Association (MRCA), landlords for the property and buildings where New Millennium is located.  The eviction proceeding still had another hearing pending at that time, and Brown stated that it he felt it was “unclear whether or not the school would even have a place to meet.”  Court records indicate an eviction notice was posted on the school property July 10, 2014, by the Madison County Sheriff’s Office.
School board member VeEtta Hagan indicated that she was not comfortable going on the superintendent’s feelings about the matter and asked School Board Attorney Tommy Reeves to explain the case law that would apply to the situation.
“One of the things the charter school has to provide is assurances that they have a place to be,” Reeves answered, adding that he had asked the court for an update on the eviction proceeding and the final hearing.
Haynes said New Millennium had already filed a response to the eviction.  Although court records show that New Millennium is $77,000 in arrears on the $7000-a-month rent, Haynes said the school had withheld the rent because MCRA was the entity in default for not fulfilling the terms of the lease.  The school’s response, filed June 9, 2014, contends that although the four-year lease commenced June 1, 2013 (ending June 30, 2017), the school did not receive a certificate of occupancy or access to the premises until Aug. 16, 2013, three days before school began.  Only six of the 15 rooms were operational, and New Millennium had to spend  approximately $14,500 to correct some of the problems with the roof, electrical wiring, tech wiring, plumbing and so forth.
If the building was not up to code as spelled out by Florida Statute,  “we’re not liable for rent,” said Haynes.  Additionally, New Millennium wanted to meet with MCRA to cancel the old lease and renegotiate a new one.
 A copy of a letter dated March 3, 2014, from MCRA president Albert Barfield to New Millennium, states that the MCRA would be willing to apply the $14,500 to the amount owed in the lease, and that MCRA was “willing to work with New Millennium Charter School…and to ensure that the school is a success.”
Haynes stated that the eviction document had been improperly filed, in the wrong court, and by an individual who was a board member of MCRA, not the chair or president, and as such, had no authority to file any legal action on the board’s behalf.  Furthermore, MCRA did not have an attorney, “and they have to have an attorney,” said Haynes, reiterating that New Millennium, on the advice of its own attorney, planned to be at the same location as last year, in the old middle school building.
“There has been no action, no judgement to close us,” she said.
The school board had voted to rescind New Millennium’s charter, due to fiscal mismanagement, at their June 17 meeting, but New Millennium exercised its right to request an administrative hearing.  The following month, the school board voted to have the Department of Administrative Hearings in…TO CONTINUE READING THIS STORY, CLICK HERE OR PICK UP A COPY OF THE MADISON ENTERPRISE-RECORDER
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Lynette Norris

Written by Lynette Norris