The Miami Herald

Charter school in adult-club scandal has money woes

The “Push It To Da Limit: The Flossin Edition” late-night party is still scheduled to go off Saturday night — but it won’t be at a South Miami-Dade charter school, as previously advertised.

Miami-Dade School District officials on Friday were still trying to determine whether the Balere Language Academy — a charter school already facing financial free-fall and increased school district scrutiny — has also been doubling as an after-hours nightclub.

This week district officials learned of R-rated party fliers, featuring bikini-clad women and bottles of booze, promoting a bash at 10875 Quail Roost Dr. — the address of the South Miami Heights charter school. Older ads, Twitter posts, Facebook photos and a string of parent complaints about smoky smells and empty beer bottles on campus also indicated past parties were held at the school.

Balere’s principal and founder, Rocka Malik, told The Miami Herald on Thursday that she knew nothing about any after-hours parties at her school. But records show the party promoter is tied to Malik’s husband: A phone number for the promoter comes back to a car-wash company managed by Malik’s husband, Clifton Smith, who is also a director of a pre-school at Balere. Malik and Smith did not return phone calls on Friday.

This is not the first time the school has come under fire: Last fall, school inspectors discovered that nine seventh-graders were being taught in a wooden storage shed on campus, records show. “Students had difficulty putting their legs comfortably under the desks,” district inspectors wrote in one report. When interviewed by an inspector with Miami-Dade’s building department, Malik denied that the shed was being used as a classroom, records show.

Balere’s attorney, Marlon Hill, blamed the newest scandal on a misprinted address in the party fliers. He said the ads were supposed to list the address of a dance hall down the road from the school.

“There will be no events [at Balere] this weekend or in the future,” Hill said. Miami-Dade police and county code inspectors will also be watching the school this weekend, said Vanessa Santana-Peñate, a spokeswoman for the county.

A worker at A Party Hall, an event space in a strip mall near the school, confirmed that “The Flossin Edition” was scheduled to be held Saturday at that venue, 10957 SW 186th St. But the worker, who declined to give his name, said the dance hall was not booked to host the party until Thursday — the same day that the school district sent a notice to Balere warning against any parties at the campus and after the fliers had been distributed. The worker would not say who booked the dance hall.

The printer who handled one of the party fliers also denied that his company changed the address printed in the handbills. He said he could not recall who ordered the fliers.

“We don’t do anything to the copy,” said Andre Khaleel of Quick Set Printing. “I’m only the printer. They bring me what they want to print. I don’t even read them.”

The controversy comes as Balere struggles to stay afloat amid a barrage of problems. Among them:

• A lender filed a foreclosure lawsuit against the school in June for failing to make payments on a $1.5 million mortgage — one of four mortgages on the school’s six-acre property, records show.

•  Enrollment at the K-7 school has plummeted from 255 students last October to just 82 students today, records show.

•  The school’s revenue, which comes from public tax dollars directly tied to the number of students, has shrunk from more than $2 million in 2010 to just over $1 million today. As of February, the school owed more than $100,000 to the Internal Revenue Service for unpaid payroll taxes.

•  The school has lost two principals since January, and school district officials said they cannot identify the current members of the nonprofit school’s board.

School district officials threatened to close the charter school last year, after it received an F grade from the state based on poor student test scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. But Balere appeared to make a dramatic turnaround when it raised its grade to an A this spring, winning the school a reprieve.

Yet Balere remains under scrutiny by the school district over its finances. The school had to submit a financial recovery plan to the district after two years in the red. District officials have questioned whether the school has a realistic plan to stay afloat.

Earlier this year, the school sought to raise $500,000 through $5 donations transmitted by phone — a goal the school district’s charter school operations chief, Tiffanie Pauline, called “highly unlikely” in a Feb. 14 e-mail to the school.

District officials are now questioning how the school property is handled as well. The campus is owned by Balere, Inc., the nonprofit company that also holds the charter to operate the school. Yet Balere, Inc. leases the property to another school-related entity for $8,000 a month, according to a financial audit of the school.

The salacious news of the party investigation caught many parents by surprise on Friday. Mileydis Crespo said she thought her two daughters, a first-grader and a third-grader, were receiving a quality education at Balere.

“When the school opened this year, there was a sense of hope,” she said, noting the school’s improvement on the FCAT. “Then this happened.”




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