A small Texas charter organization has spent sizable sums to buy residential condos, claiming they are for “office space and storage.”

“Accelerated Intermediate Academy – the charter school network criticized for its purchase of a Houston condominium with taxpayer dollars – also owns a second condo in downtown Dallas where similar units have been appraised at more than $300,000.

“The network also shelled out nearly $120,000 in property taxes on the Houston property, including $45,700 in late fees and attorney costs, in 2016 after the Harris County Appraisal District denied a request for a property exemption, tax records show.The two-school charter network, which served fewer than 300 students last year at two campuses, spent $427,238 for the Houston condo and an undisclosed amount for the high-end Dallas residence, property records show. Both were purchased in June 2011…

“The property purchases and tax payments mean hundreds of thousands of dollars less for the academy’s classrooms, raising additional questions about the network’s leadership.
Accelerated Intermediate Academy has received about $55 million in taxpayer dollars since opening in 2001, producing solid academic results. It is one of dozens of charter school networks that are publicly funded and privately governed by nonprofit boards to provide parents an option in place of traditional public schools.

“A Houston Chronicle investigation last month uncovered the Houston condo purchase in 2011 and reported that the school’s superintendent, Kevin Hicks, earned more than $250,000 each of the past three years despite several parents and former teachers saying he rarely appeared on the Houston campus….

“School officials told appraisers in Dallas that the unit would be used for office and records storage, even though the school already had a 9,600-square-foot campus in the nearby suburb of Lancaster. That campus has never enrolled more than 17 students since opening in 2012, according to state reports. The Houston unit also was described as an office and storage facility.
Following both purchases, school leaders sought full property tax exemptions, which routinely are granted for charter schools. The network noted in a letter to Harris County appraisers that “the only funds we receive are state and federal funds….”

“Accelerated Intermediate Academy’s properties had high-end touches befitting their price tags, according to online real estate listings. The Dallas unit came with hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, a wine cooler, granite countertops and access to a rooftop deck with a hot tub. The 1,118-square-foot Houston condo has floor-to-ceiling windows, hardwood floors and access to a pool with skyline views.

“As Accelerated Intermediate Academy has sunk money into buying properties, however, the charter network has paid teachers salaries that are well below average, payroll data shows. Most of its educators have earned about $35,000 to $45,000 in recent years. By comparison, the starting salary at traditional public school districts in the Houston area is about $50,000.

“The school also has stockpiled $12.5 million in cash, enough to cover six years’ worth of operating expenses; most schools keep three to six months’ worth of operating expenses in cash.”

Every storage space should be equipped with a wine cooler, granite countertops, and access to a rooftop hot tub.