BASIS Independent School’s for-profit strategy, by George Fiala

The initial controversy surrounding the BASIS Independent School stemmed from their under-the-radar approach in entering our community. While they assured a Community Board 6 (CB6) committee that they had done sufficient groundwork, it turned out that very few in the community had any idea of their plans, nor anything about them. For this reason, their initial application for approval was rejected at the December general meeting.

BASIS is a charter school operator now branching out into the private school business. They were founded and are still owned by Michael and Olga Block of Tucson, Arizona. They are opening their first two private schools this year, one here and one in Silicon Valley. For the Red Hook location they are looking to attract students from Park Slope and Downtown Brooklyn, holding information sessions at a Dumbo office. They are currently doing pre-construction work at a lot on Columbia and Bay Streets, across from the Red Hook Farm, between IKEA and the Red Hook West Houses.IMG_3248

One difference from competing private schools like Packer, St. Anns, Brooklyn Friends and Berkeley Carroll is that as a for-profit, they will not have a scholarship fund. Tuition at these school can be as high as $40,000 per year, but, as with many colleges, some of that is offset by financial aid and full scholarship. Tuition at BASIS will be a flat $23,500, with no aid offered.

BASIS began operating charter schools in 1998 with an initial school in Tucson, Arizona. They now run twelve charters. A recent application  for a school in San Antonio, Texas raised questions about their financial transparency. The applications are a public record, but when released, large sections of theirs were blacked out. BASIS claimed they did not want to reveal trade secrets. The blocked out sections included questions pertaining to their internal finances. While their charter schools operate as non-profits, a managing company, also owned by the Blocks, is a for-profit entity and takes large fees from the schools. This business arrangement allows them to operate their not-for-profits as a for-profit company, allowing them, among other things, to pay owners and managers as they wish, outside the scrutiny of any public agency.

By changing to a for-profit scheme, transparency will no longer be an issue. They can use their knowledge and expertise, gained from their charter school experiences, to create a franchise business of schools. No doubt their marketing research identified our part of Brooklyn as an area with a large potential market of private school enrollees.

College success is the bread and butter of all private schools. Parents who can afford it opt out of the free public school system thinking that their children will gain an edge towards future financial success. Like BASIS, most private schools have been started by educators who have their own methodology to bring to the school experience. In many cases, there is a deep humanistic streak in these philosophies. Many believe in diversity of the student body, and financial aid is their way to achieve diversity. As a for-profit school with a libertarian philosophy, and no financial aid offered, a school like BASIS will take what they can get. The students are their customers.

BASIS explains their philosophy on its website:

“A for-profit independent school is a business. The school is owned by its investors and like any business, to thrive the school must satisfy its customers,  our parents and grandparents, who pay the tuition. Our objective as a business is simple: to offer an internationally-acclaimed learning experience at an exceptional value.

BASIS Independent Schools break with the traditional, elitist model of private education. There is no self-perpetuating Board of Trustees made up of influential parents and significant donors. There will be no fundraising whatsoever in any of our schools. The Head of School at BASIS Independent Schools is thus liberated from significant conflict-of-interest issues and is able to focus entirely on his or her educational mission: managing teachers and ensuring the quality of the learning culture.

There are other ways in which BASIS Independent Schools have disrupted the traditional private school model. Everything we do is focused on student learning. That includes aligning our teachers’ financial incentives with our educational mission: teachers are paid end-of-year bonuses based upon their student learning results on both our internal Comprehensive Exams and on the College Board Advanced Placement exams. It is not unusual for the best BASIS teachers to earn bonuses in excess of $25,000.”

For comparison, here is how other local private schools discuss fundraising:

St. Anns (Brooklyn Heights)
“The Scholarship Fund at Saint Ann’s enables the school to welcome a diverse group of extraordinary students each year with varied experiences, opinions, and talents from across the socioeconomic spectrum.”

Brooklyn Friends (Downtown)
“The Brooklyn Friends School mission statement emphasizes the school’s commitment to educate each child in a diverse community.  Our financial aid program supports that mission and strives to ensure socioeconomic diversity within our student population.  We work diligently to make BFS accessible to as many families of varying economic backgrounds as possible.

Financial Aid (at Brooklyn Friends) is available for students from Kindergarten through Grade Twelve, and is granted on the basis of need and the availability of funds.  Admissions decisions and financial aid decisions are made independently.  Due to limited funds, an acceptance by the Enrollment Management Office does not guarantee a grant even if need is demonstrated.  On average, 25% of our students will receive more than $4,000,000 in financial aid grants.  Funding for financial aid grants comes from the school’s operating budget and charitable gifts.  Brooklyn Friends gives priority consideration to children of Quaker families, BFS faculty and staff, alumni/ae, and siblings.”

Packer (Brooklyn Heights)
“Packer is firmly committed to making Packer a viable educational option for all eligible students, regardless of need. Financial Aid is available for students from Kindergarten to Grade Twelve, and is given on the basis of need and the availability of funds. On average, 25% of our students will receive more than $6,000,000 in tuition assistance grants.

In order to continue its commitment to socioeconomic diversity, Berkeley Carroll provides need-based financial assistance to families who otherwise could not meet the financial obligations associated with enrollment. Families of children entering Kindergarten through grade 12 may apply for financial aid. While the budget is limited and cannot meet all needs, all interested families are welcome to apply.

Each application for financial assistance is handled with individual attention and complete confidentiality. Additionally, financial aid decisions are made independent of admissions decisions, and a request for aid will not have an impact on the admissions process.”

Berkeley Carroll (Park Slope)
In order to continue its commitment to socioeconomic diversity, Berkeley Carroll provides need-based financial assistance to families who otherwise could not meet the financial obligations associated with enrollment. Families of children entering Kindergarten through grade 12 may apply for financial aid. While the budget is limited and cannot meet all needs, all interested families are welcome to apply.

Each application for financial assistance is handled with individual attention and complete confidentiality. Additionally, financial aid decisions are made independent of admissions decisions, and a request for aid will not have an impact on the admissions process.

One may conclude that opening in Red Hook has been a business decision for the BASIS group. Their interest is in making a profit by providing an education that will produce the best test scores for their customers. The land they will build on is no doubt cheaper than what they could find in Park Slope or Cobble Hill, where their student base will be coming from.  If they do build here, and if they become a good neighbor are both questions still up in the air.

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2 Responses to BASIS Independent School’s for-profit strategy, by George Fiala

  1. James Vogel says:

    George, I think you’d like to have a talk with Warren Cohen about the Lightstone Development over on the Gowanus Canal. This is the site that was supposed to be Toll Brothers, and now it looks like Lightstone might actually have ties to Toll Brothers, and the guy who now is in charge of the environmental revue for the DEC is the same guy that Toll Brothers used to right their brownfield remediation study that the DEC rejected! So he’s going to be reviewing his own work, clear conflict of interest!

    Warren will regale you, and there’s a meeting about it next Thursday at 4. Call him! 347-200-6663

    Jim

  2. redhookstar says:

    Thanks and Happy New Year to you and your boss! Hopefully see you soon – keep me abreast of any public Bridging Gowanus meetings!

    George

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