By Becky Fenger
With voting in the recall election of Arizona State Senate President Russell Pearce underway, it’s high time that voters in Legislative District 18 learned something about the content of the character of challenger Jerry Lewis. Here’s a sampling.
Lewis was superintendent of Sequoia Schools, a publicly-funded charter school chain.
In 2005 he approached the owners of Joy Christian School, a privately-funded Christian school, with an offer to contract Sequoia’s distance learning system to provide learning tools that Joy lacked to some of Joy’s students. Joy accepted the offer and began to have Joy students log into Sequoia’s program from Joy School’s facility.
Note: Joy Christian academy charges parents between $6,000 and $8,000 a year in tuition. It is fully privately funded. As such, they do not report anything to the state in terms of attendance.
Sequoia is publicly funded, based upon each student’s average daily attendance. As each Joy student logged onto Sequoia’s website, he or she was counted as a Sequoia student and was added to the daily average attendance report for Sequoia. This increased the amount of money Sequoia received for state funding.
In 2009 a parent contacted the Arizona Department of Education, asking why she was paying for tuition at Joy when her child was educated at Sequoia.
An audit was conducted. It was discovered that Sequoia received $1.9 million from the additional students. The audit also revealed that Sequoia had shown an increase of slightly over 400 new students on a daily basis by counting the Joy students.
Lewis was confronted with the facts from the audit and advised to step down as superintendent of Sequoia. Lewis stepped down, and no charges were pressed. Since he had used state funds, Sequoia was forced to reimburse the funds.
Several months later, Maricopa County SupervisorDon Stapley was instrumental in removing Sandra Dowling as superintendant of the Thomas J. Pappas School for the homeless. Stapley aided in transferring control and administration of Pappas to the company that owned and administered Sequoia Schools. Shortly after Dowling left, Jerry Lewis took over as superintendent of Pappas in Tempe. (The name has since changed to Children First Academy.)
During this time, the light-fingered Lewis was caught taking items earmarked for a large garage sale the school held every year as a fundraiser. He was seen taking the donated items which he gave to a woman who later sold them at a yard sale.
The teacher who reported this was fired by Lewis. Since she was under contract she in turn sued Pappas. That suit is open and pending in Maricopa County Superior court. As a result of reporting Lewis’ theft, the teacher lost her home and possessions. How about those apples?
Here’s the real disgrace. The Arizona Republic and other media have kept a lid on the story; such is their hatred of Russell Pearce and burning desire to see him ousted. Many, many column inches have been written about ex-candidate Olivia Cortes, beating that story into the ground, but not a peep about the shenanigans of Jerry Lewis, even though they had the story. Laughably, a headline on one of their lead editorials read: “Voters Armed With the Truth.”
Finally, this past Sunday, the Arizona Republic came up with a tricky move. In an attempt to inoculate themselves from having to write a real news story on Jerry Lewis’ misdeeds, they planted eleven puny paragraphs into their “Political Insider” column. With their heading, they attempted to label the valid accusations against Lewis as “mud slinging” and quoted a Ron Neil as saying that “not even 1 cent was raised from any yard sale of items donated to our school.” This ignores other reports that the lucky friend of Lewis said she made $1,000 off the purloined items. No story here?
The Republic must be forgetting their motto: “It’s For the Children.”