Former Milwaukee School Board President Michael Bonds was convicted of accepting bribes to help a Philadelphia charter school operator. 

As part of an agreement with prosecutors, Bonds, 60, pleaded guilty to two counts in federal court in Philadelphia. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine at his sentencing, tentatively set for September, but which will depend on when he completes his pledged cooperation with an ongoing federal investigation…

Bonds served on the MPS board from 2007 until he abruptly resigned in July 2018, nine months before his term was to end. 

He was charged last month with conspiracy and violations of the Travel Act for taking kickbacks in return for votes beneficial to Universal Cos. between 2014 and 2016. Two unnamed Universal executives were implicated in the scheme but have not been charged.

Veteran Milwaukee journalist Alan Borsuk described the affair as “a scandal with few rivals in the recent history of Milwaukee education.”  He sums up the details.

Universal Academy. Universal came into Milwaukee riding some celebrity appeal — its founder, Kenny Gamble, was a soul music star — and a reputation for running some decent charter schools, some housing projects and other ventures in its home town, Philadelphia.

Universal also initially named a well-regarded Milwaukee educator as its local leader. Ronn Johnson had founded and led the YMCA Young Leaders Academy. But months before Universal opened, Johnson was charged with sexually assaulting several students years earlier. A few months later, he died in a fire at his home in Brown Deer. His death was ruled a suicide.

The president and CEO of Universal in Philadelphia, Rahim Islam, stepped in to oversee the Milwaukee operation and spent a lot of time in the city. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, he is one of the main figures in the bribery scheme involving Bonds. 

At one point, Universal schools enrolled 1,000 students.

Perhaps because enrollment didn’t meet expectations and then started to fall, and perhaps because Universal was overextended with the large amount of MPS property it was using, Universal began to slide. Islam became unreachable (he had been glad to talk in early times). Leadership of the schools kept changing. It was clear Universal wasn’t investing in Milwaukee any further.

And things got worse. First two schools closed. Then, the third. It was done abruptly, leaving kids and staff in the lurch.

And now a former Board President is headed to jail. Very sad.