Friday was the last day of school at Prime Prep Academy, according to state administrators assigned to pull the plug on the charter school founded by ex-Cowboy Deion Sanders. After two and a half years of legal fights, actual fights and assorted controversy, the Texas Education Agency finally said enough was enough. The school, whose funding came mostly from taxpayers, closed at least $650,000 short in cash need to pay overdue salaries and a number of other debts.
TEA's School Governance Director Ronald Rowell defended his agency's timing. "They've only been open for two and a half years," Rowell said today, and the school had turned in all the right paperwork until this year. "I think we acted fairly quickly," Rowell said.
The TEA appointees made their announcement during a board meeting Friday afternoon at Prime Prep's Fort Worth elementary school campus. Prime Prep operated a school in Dallas that also closed.
School officials said that Prime Prep has only $60,000 cash at hand but needs $200,000 to cover the January payroll and an additional half million for expenses that include rent, food, security services, attorney fees and payment owed to the Internal Revenue Service. Despite being short on January's payments, Prime Prep's teachers have continued to show up for work each day.
Those shortfalls may not even include athletic expenses. At the high school campus, in Dallas, Prime Prep's sports teams often traveled long distance to play their opponents. The TEA appointees said today that those travel expenses are not accounted for anywhere.
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As of today, Sanders was still on the payroll for Prime Prep Academy as the athletic director, the TEA appointees said, but they still don't know what his salary was. Sanders was not present at Friday's meeting. Messages left to his Facebook and email accounts were not returned.
It's unclear if teachers and other staffers will get paid for the month of January. A custodian for the Fort Worth campus named Rita Petty said that the school still owes her $3,500. "Deion has never done anything for this campus," Petty said when asked if she had ever seen Sanders at the Fort Worth school. "I don't think anything of Deion."
The TEA officials urged parents to enroll their kids in a new school by Friday. Veronica Nelson-Marshall, a mother with two children at Prime Prep's Fort Worth elementary school, waited by a school staffer late Friday, trying to figure out how she'd be able to get a transcript to transfer. She said she sent her children to Prime Prep after getting a random cold-call before the school opened two and a half years ago, informing her that her daughter had been "accepted" into the school. The caller already knew her daughter's name, Nelson-Marshall says. "They called me and said she had an orientation day." She has been happy with her daughters' education at Prime Prep up until the end. Last week, Nelson-Marshall said she heard for the first time from a cheerleading coach that the teachers weren't getting paid.
Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.