Saturday, January 01, 2011

More fallout from the Michael Hazelton era

Deborah Hazelton, wife of Michael Hazelton. (Photo from TIP Academy yearbook.)
Michael Hazelton called up this blogger a while back, maybe two or three months ago, and tried to get her to remove Emily Alpert's stories about him from this blog. These are important stories that the public has a right to know about.

Shuttered School Sued for $37,000 Printer
Posted on December 29, 2010
by Emily Alpert

A shuttered charter school and its former principal are being sued by an Illinois financial company for allegedly failing to pay more than $37,000 they owe for a digital printer and copier.

Theory Into Practice Academy was shut down two years ago after an Encinitas Union School District investigation concluded that the school's board and administration violated conflict of interest laws and mismanaged its finances. While charter schools are independently run, they are publicly funded and usually overseen by school districts, which can close them if they violate the law, don't manage their money properly or fall far short academically.

The school played a central role in my special report two years ago on Michael Hazelton, who had led three Southern California schools in four years, each of which was crippled or closed by the time he walked away, suffering deficits or battling accusations that Hazelton improperly enriched himself or corporations he founded.

The Encinitas school was led by Deborah Hazelton, his wife, who was accused of using her influence to goad the board into hiring him.

The attorney representing the Illinois company declined to comment. In its legal filings, TBF Financial LLC states that Deborah Hazelton breached a contract she first signed more than three years ago and now owes more than $37,000 to the company. Under their agreement, the school was supposed to pay $669 a month for five years to lease the equipment.

"[T]hey have failed and refused and continued to fail and refuse to pay said sum," the lawsuit alleges.

As of earlier this month, the company had been unable to reach Deborah Hazelton to serve the complaint. The Hazeltons now work as teachers at the Academy Learning Center in Solana Beach, according to its website...

Mike Hazelton led three different charter schools in four years, each of which suffered deeper deficits or suspicions of mismanagement under his leadership.

The School Guru Who Promised Rescue and Brought Ruin
Part 1
by Emily Alpert
Voice of San Diego
Sept. 24, 2008

Juan Pablo Ladron de Guevara had floundered in a big, conventional school, but not at Cortez Hill Academy. He relished the small classes and loved chatting with his English teacher, his "all-time most favorite teacher in the whole world."

"I actually felt like coming to school," de Guevara said.

But Cortez Hill enrollment didn't keep pace with soaring downtown rents in the summer of 2006, making money so scarce at the tiny charter school that it relied on parents to help maintain the dim, aging building on A Street. Balancing the books frustrated the principal, a former counselor who could soothe troubled teens but was less familiar with finances.

Michael R. Hazelton sold himself as an expert who could help. He was soothing. Gray-haired. Nice. A Harvard University seminar topped his resume, loaded with impressive work at a national company and a school that had once aided Cortez Hill. The school hired him as its executive director to reverse its fortunes.

Instead its deficit ballooned from $16,559 to $188,187 in the single year that it employed Hazelton. When an audit revealed that he gave himself an $18,350 raise without the blessing of the Cortez Hill board, boosting the six-figure salary that had already dwarfed what his predecessor had earned, Hazelton was already gone.

Two of its 13 teachers lost their jobs as Cortez Hill struggled to pay its bills. And something else was missing, something de Guevara couldn't quite describe. Rumors about Hazelton spread and graffiti proliferated in the bathrooms. De Guevara started skipping class to hang out with friends in the library.

"Everyone found out what Mike did," de Guevara said, adding that "the school changed so much. I hated it."

Cortez Hill isn't the only charter school where Mike Hazelton promised rescue and brought ruin. In four years, he has led three Southern California schools and each has been crippled or closed by the time he walked away, suffering deficits or battling accusations that Hazelton improperly enriched himself or corporations he founded.

He was first accused of double-dipping in San Bernardino County, where deficits destroyed a bilingual school that paid him nearly $128,000 in salary and an estimated $290,000 to the corporation he founded for accounting and administrative support. The school's abrupt closure left teenagers without class credits and some struggling to graduate.

Two and a half years later, an audit concluded that his Cortez Hill raise was unapproved and the school hemorrhaged money under his watch, decimating its budget and its morale. And his most recent school, Theory Into Practice Academy, was shut down in August after a Encinitas Union School District investigation concluded that the school's board and administration, which included Hazelton and his wife Deborah Hazelton, violated conflict of interest laws and mismanaged its finances.
Deborah Hazelton, wife of Mike Hazelton, cofounded TIP Academy and served as its principal. Photo from TIP Academy yearbook

Hazelton is still in business, now planning a new private school with his wife in San Marcos. He has not repaid the thousands of dollars that the Encinitas school district and Cortez Hill say he was improperly paid. Hazelton has explanations for the mishaps: The San Bernardino school had trouble partnering with a community group. Cortez Hill was billed twice by the school district. And rivalry spurred the Encinitas school district to attack his school.

He has defenders in San Bernardino and Encinitas. Some contend that the closure of TIP Academy was a politically motivated attack on a successful charter that had drawn students away from the Encinitas schools; others voiced similar complaints about the school district that oversaw the San Bernardino school and place its problems with the local group that partnered with Hazelton.

Even his harshest critics call him nice, and struggle to reconcile his kindness with his record. When classrooms needed books he jumped to supply them. He knew each of their children by name. It seemed impossible that friendly Mike Hazelton, the man who ran school traffic duty in a goofy straw hat, meant to profit off their school. Katherine Flesh, who sent her children to the Encinitas school, was left wondering whether Hazelton was conniving or merely incompetent.

"Is he Mr. Magoo who has left a trail of destruction? Or is it a cover he's perfected?" she asked. Either way, Flesh said, "he found a gravy train."

His saga underscores the vulnerabilities of charter schools, a relatively new phenomenon in California education. Publicly funded but independently run, charters are meant to be incubators for creativity and innovation, unfettered by the rules that weigh traditional schools. They give all students a free alternative to the public schools.

But independence also has a price. Charters often shoulder the business tasks that school districts ordinarily handle for schools, such as running a payroll or financing a building. And those tasks can prove daunting to educators who are more familiar with classrooms than budgets.

Hazelton offered to handle those jobs, convincing his employers with his resume and the sterling reputation of the first charter where he worked. Exaggerated titles and job descriptions went undetected. Few employers contacted all the schools he left, or the references who said they hardly knew Hazelton or hadn't spoken to him in years. School leaders who hired Hazelton trusted him.

"I was hoping he was the professional who could turn it around for us," said Will Stillwell, board secretary at Cortez Hill Academy. "I wanted to let him lead."

Hazelton studied at the University of California, Irvine and San Diego State, and started teaching in 1975 in Oceanside public schools, where he ascended to coordinator of student services, according to his resume. He also owned private preschools in Encinitas with his wife, a recognized teacher of gifted students...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mr. Hazelton was my fifth grade teacher at Santa Margarita Elementary School at Camp Pendleton, CA (1977-1978). He was the best teacher that I have ever had, and I can remember every single teacher from Kindergarten to 12th grade, despite numerous moves from being a military brat. I have searched to thank him for my wake up call, making me realize that I had a future that involved higher education, numbers, and effort. I am now a retired navy officer with a BSME and MSME and it all started in fifth grade, when he told me that I had a knack for numbers and would be in his advanced group.