Alleged Open Meetings Act violations, other troubles plague charter school

By Brett Shipp
Originally published May 1, 2014

FORT WORTH — For nearly two years, Deion Sanders’ Prime Prep Academy has been plagued  by allegations of financial and academic mismanagement.

Last fall, the Texas Education Agency opened an investigation. Yet, the state education commissioner now says it’s too early to intervene.

The last time WFAA checked in on Prime Prep Academy, the landlord at the Fort Worth campus was evicting the school for non-payment of rent.

“Can you imagine that?” said landlord Bishop F.R. Mays. “Millionaires running out on the bill.”

Upset parents like Edna Philips, of Fort Worth, were pulling their children out.

“To me, I feel like they care more about sports than they do education,” she said.

What’s more, the Tarrant County District Attorney was investigating the alleged theft of student laptops.

Prime Prep also finds itself on the state’s academically unacceptable list and the NCAA has identified seven senior classes as “denied courses.” Prime Prep’s elementary school was just ranked the worst in North Texas by the non-profit group “Children at Risk.”

Prime Prep Academy is supported by Texas taxpayers and gets $5 million a year. And while Texas Education Agency investigators are looking into the allegations, TEA Commissioner Michael Williams says he won’t jump to conclusions.

“So, in some ways that doesn’t make Prime Prep any different than schools where parents are disappointed or find that their youngsters are in a school that is not meeting their needs and not meeting their satisfaction,” he said.

Williams says while allegations of financial and academic deficiencies are being investigated, he feels positive changes are being made.

“We’ve a new leadership team at the school now at those two campuses,” he said. “You have a new superintendent in Ron Price and you’ve got two new principals.”

But, this past Saturday, inside a locked office building near downtown Dallas, tucked away in a tiny conference room at the new headquarters of Prime Prep Academy, new superintendent Price and board president Chris Lewis were holding a public meeting in which school finances were on the agenda.

By definition, an inaccessible public meeting is an apparent violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

Asked where members of the public would be seated if they chose to attend, Lewis responded “anywhere in this meeting room where we would find a seat.”

Meanwhile, outside, three other board members also found themselves locked out. Among those locked out were Okey Akpom, a board member who is suing Prime Prep for previous alleged violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act. Once he got inside, things got heated between him and Price.

“You disrespected these kids the last year and a half,” Price yelled. “These kids have been mistreated.”

“Are you yelling at me, sir?” Akpom asked.

“I’m raising my voice at you,” Price responded.

Despite all the rancor, upheaval and controversy at Prime Prep Academy, TEA Commissioner Williams says the best course of action for the state’s governing body, the TEA, is patience.

“I will take that action which is appropriate based upon the facts as we find them,” Williams said. “The investigation has not been completed.”

He said the investigation will be complete sometime this summer.