Cashing In On Kids

Coconut Grove charter school gets reprieve

The Miami-Dade School Board won’t close the troubled Academy of Arts & Minds charter school — for now.

District officials threatened to close Arts & Minds earlier this month after the school failed to deliver some special-education services. The school was also criticized for charging parents illegal fees.

School district spokesman John Schuster said Arts & Minds had come into compliance for all but four special-needs students.

“The school is heading in the right direction,” he said Tuesday.

Schuster said the School Board would not consider closing Arts & Minds at its November meeting. “However, the district will continue to monitor and maintain vigilance over the situation,” he said.

Arts & Minds is an A-rated charter school in Coconut Grove. Like other charter schools, Arts & Minds receives tax dollars, but is run by an independent governing board.

The school has come under fire for a number of issues, including:

• For years, Arts & Minds has charged fees ranging from $15 for classes like math, reading and physical education to $60 for classes like dance, graphic design and photography. School district officials say some of those fees are illegal, and want to examine the records.

• This year, Arts & Minds fell behind in evaluating and crafting education plans for special-needs students.

• Some classes had neither teachers nor textbooks for the first five weeks of school, parents said.

Parents have also questioned the role of the school’s founder, Manuel Alonso-Poch, who serves as the school’s landlord, manager and food-service provider. His cousin, Ruth “Chuny” Montaner, is the chairwoman of the governing board.

The district gave Arts & Minds until Nov. 9 to get caught up on special-education services. The district also requested records of any fees that had been charged to parents.

Arts & Minds complied, records show.

“The governing board of the Academy of Arts & Minds Charter High School is diligently developing [special-education] policies, practices and procedures so that in the future, the delivery of [special-education] services to Academy students is strengthened and delivery is assured ahead of schedule,” Montaner wrote in a letter to the school district.

The letter also outlined plans to track receipts and disbursements of student fees.

School system officials are planning to conduct an audit of the charter school.