By Kevin Deutsch
Five teachers at a shuttered Tamarac charter school claim the institution failed to pay them for their final weeks of work—allegations the school’s principal denies.
According to Broward Sheriff’s Office records, five teachers from the now-closed Excelsior Charter of Broward, 2099 W. Prospect Road, walked into BSO’s Tamarac District Office on Feb. 19 and said Principal Raul Baez failed to pay them the wages they were owed.
“All five teachers said the school has closed down, and the principal, Raul Baez, refuses to pay them for two weeks of work and their summer pay,” deputies wrote in their initial report, referencing the school’s February closure. “They said Raul accepted money from the State of Florida for their summer pay but has not and will not give it to them. They advised Raul took [Paycheck Protection Program] loans as well and had approximately $300,000 in reserve that they don’t know what happened to.”
The five teachers, Paulina Jarret, Janice Blakeslee, Shela Jones, Randy Sutton, and Omayra Fontanez, said, “they feel there may be some criminal activity [involving the charter school’s operations] but couldn`t provide that exact information at this time,” according to the report.
“I told them I would issue them a case number and start this report but told them they will have to come up with more information in order for us to list this as a crime and begin to investigate it,” deputies wrote. “They said they will gather as much information as they can. I told them to bring it to me during the week when Criminal Investigations is in so I could present it to them to see how they want to proceed.
“They also said they spoke to the State Attorney`s Office who told them they first needed a report from Law Enforcement before they could investigate anything.”
After publication of this story, Jones contacted Tamarac Talk to say the five teachers have since been paid their final two weeks’ wages, but are still owed their summer pay and, in some cases, signing bonuses.
In an extensive phone interview Friday, Baez denied the teachers’ claims to BSO, stating he had done everything he could to keep the school open, and followed all laws and rules to a tee.
He said the five teachers who went to BSO were paid for all of their work, but made the complaint to deputies before their final paychecks were issued.
Baez said Excelsior Charter operated for 17 years, growing from a school with two classrooms at its old location on Nob Hill Road in Tamarac, to serving 184 students at its new location before the arrival of COVID-19.
The pandemic, Baez said, initially spurred Excelsior Charter, a tuition-free, open enrollment school for students entering grades K through 5, to hire more teachers to protect students’ health and safety.
That was followed by lower enrollment numbers, part of a broader trend of students leaving schools in Broward County amid the pandemic, Baez said.
With fewer kids came fewer funds from the school district, which funds Broward charter schools based on their number of enrollees.
Excelsior lost about a quarter million dollars in funding due the pandemic, Baez said.
The educator said he pleaded with the school district for more funds to keep the school afloat, to no avail.
He also provided Tamarac Talk with documents showing how much money Excelsior received from the Broward County School Board each month.
“This is a very sad story about a school that’s going through the pandemic with low enrollment, trying to survive with nobody to rescue us,” said Baez, adding that he and his wife, who also worked at Excelsior, forfeited months of their own pay in order to pay Excelsior’s teachers.
Baez said the couple is on the hook for debt accrued as a result of the school’s financial struggles, including payments to education vendors. He said they also spent thousands of their own money, including 401K funds, to keep the school operating as its funding dwindled.
As for the PPP loan referenced by the five teachers, Baez said that money was used to pay Excelsior’s teachers last year and keep the school operating during that time.
“We didn’t have enough students [in the end], but we believe in the dream of a community school that can provide the love and personal touch and humanity missing from regular schools,” said Baez. “Many other schools are in the same [financial] situation right now and may be closing their doors. Students are affected and their families are affected. It’s painful.”
During the 2020-2021 school year, Excelsior served 157 students with eleven teachers; a little more than 14 students for every instructor, records show.
Many of the school’s students were economically disadvantaged, according to state data.
Excelsior received a D rating during the 2018-2019 school year, the last year for which the school’s rating was available, records show.
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- Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.
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