Fraud in testing, special education found at ReNEW charter school

Last week reported that the former principals of ReNEW SciTech Academy in Uptown New Orleans were accused Friday (Jan. 29) of special education fraud, failing to follow federal special education law and breaking state testing rules. Louisiana Recovery School District officials said the principals, Tim Hearin and Alex Perez, snagged almost $320,000 in public money for the school in the 2014-15 academic year by artificially inflating special education services. They also broke numerous test security rules, including asking at least three teachers to look at testing books — one during the test itself — to improve future results.

And as a school official initially told The Lens in June, they cheated on internal tests that carried weight with an independent philanthropy, although that did not affect the school’s performance on Louisiana’s report card. The state’s investigation did not focus on the internal test.

Perez and Hearin quit in May, right before the state investigation began. Hearin had been named a semifinalist for Louisiana Principal of the Year; his name later disappeared from the list.

Gary Robichaux, the ReNEW group’s chief executive during the shenanigans, remains employed by the six-school charter network in an advocacy position at his same $154,000 salary, officials said. That’s even though emails released by the state show he knew about some of the manipulations at least as early as January 2015.

“Failed oversight of school-level leadership by the former CEO led to the identified problems” at SciTech, the Recovery School District report says.

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