Twelve Reasons Deion's Prime Prep Deserves the State's Scrutiny Besides its Lunch Program
The Texas Education Agency is still investigating the Deion Sanders-founded and publicly funded Prime Prep charter school, after officials announced plans to revoke the school's charter for mishandling funds intended for the school lunch program. Prime Prep is appealing and hopes to stay open. But school lunch funds are just one small flame in the uncontainable tire fire that is Prime Prep.
Patric Michels Deion Sanders meets with parents at an open house before Prime Prep opened in 2012.
Here are some more compelling reasons to shut down the school, or at least ask some tough questions:
1. The Disaster in Forth Worth
In the school's original charter application, it outlined plans to pay thousands of dollars a month in rent to a shell company owned by Sanders' co-founder, DL Wallace, in exchange for space at Fort Worth's charity church -- an apparent ploy for Wallace and the church's bishop, Fredrick Mays, to profit off the publicly funded school. TEA caught the kick-back scheme and told Prime Prep that the arrangement wasn't kosher -- then approved the charter anyway. The amended application said Prime Prep could use the space for free.
But later, the school sued the church and Mays, saying it had been charging rent anyway, under a "secret" lease signed by Wallace, who had by then been ousted as CEO.
2. The Missing Computers
In January, Prime Prep Academy's latest superintendent, Ron Price, filed a criminal complaint alleging that more than 100 laptops randomly disappeared. A school maintenance worker told Brett Shipp that he had been ordered to sell them. Shipp tracked down one of the laptops in a liquor store.
3. Team Deion or Bust
A former counselor at the Dallas campus told us that she seemed to fall out of favor with Sanders after police interviewed her about one of his alleged assaults. Just as he began acting coldly toward her, parents told her that Sanders was "out to get" her and that they'd heard rumors she'd get fired soon. The counselor tried to talk to the principal about the bullying but said it only made things worse. "At first she was like very neutral," the counselor said of her dealings with the principal, "but towards the end, she was not. She was like Team Deion."
4. The Wrath of the HNIC
In an audio recording we obtained earlier this year, Sanders professes his desire to break someone's neck, laments his paltry $40,000 salary and, when asked what role he'd like to play, appoints himself the "Head Nigga in Charge."
5. Not in My Field House
A former COO, Sean Allen, has said NFL players used workout equipment meant for students, and that when he asked Sanders and the players to leave, Sanders assaulted him. Later, we obtained audio in which Sanders admits to choking his COO.
6. The Original Choke
It was another top official, the school's CFO, who was the first to publicly come out about an assault by Sanders, reporting it to the police. Sanders denied choking the man.
7. The Brett Shipping of Brett Shipp
8. Open Meeting Laws Are Silly and Outdated
Last fall, an educator named Rachel King-Sanders, no relation to Deion, was put in charge of the school's academics. Then she fired Deion Sanders. The school board initially supported her decision, then suddenly switched teams.
During the ice storm last year, when all the highways were frozen over, the school board tried to hold a meeting to review her job performance, complaining that she was responsible for much of the problems at the school. Few people made it the meeting, other than two reporters, some of the athlete's parents who supported Sanders and a few of his buddies. The meeting got successfully postponed after an attorney crashed and said it was illegal, because three board members were missing.
This sparked a particularly angry reaction from one of Sanders' friends who showed up, a man named Omar Jahwar. "We're not going to play the game ... until everybody get their crew," Jahwar yelled from the back of the auditorium, referencing the missing board members, "and then you get your crew, and then we get our crew. Because it's going to be a different type of crew." The details of this last crew were not revealed.
King-Sanders got fired at a meeting a few weeks later and replaced with former DISD trustee Ron Price, a guy who is way more Pro-Deion. "I know Mr. Sanders has a vision, he was the founder and he really wants to concentrate on athletics, and that's where he'll be," he told us shortly after his hiring. (We detailed the weird meetings and all the assault allegations in our cover story from February)
9. No, Seriously, Meetings Suck
A school board member who stopped coming to meetings is suing the others for allegedly violating the open meetings act.
10. Who's in Charge Here?
Sanders has a friend named Reginald Calhoun whom we first met when Sanders and the OWN Network people tried to get us to appear on their reality show. Calhoun, records show, is the co-director for the Prime Time Association, the separate nonprofit that Sanders runs. Calhoun doesn't have an official role at the school, but we've seen him there at the board meetings, greeting all the parents. That seems innocent enough, but he showed up to one a few months ago with the school's superintendent, Ron Price. More troubling, the former counselor who felt bullied said that when she eventually got fired, Calhoun helped Price fire her.
11. You Get a School, You Get a School
State regulators complained about plagiarism and other problems on the school's initial application but approved the charter anyway. Shortly the school got off the ground, Wallace hired a member of the state board of education away to become Prime Prep's superintendent. (That educator, Charlie Garza, got fired last school year; he blames Wallace and his allies for the problems at the school). In one of our recordings, Sanders himself alludes to favoritism from people above. "Senators, political leaders that you hooked me up with, that you put me down with, that's how we got the school," Sanders tells Wallace."How in the world do you think we got a school?"
Bonus weirdness: When Wallace accused Sanders of assaulting him, he said it took place in the offices of Senator Royce West.
12. And About Those Sports
Prime Prep was founded as a school that would leverage Sanders' experience in sports to help kids succeed on the field and off. But it went bad from the start. Early in the school's tenure, the UIL league ruled that Prime Prep's football team and four of its basketball players had illegally transferred to the school. Kids streamed there anyway, including some of the nation's top basketball recruits, and including the nation's most sought after point guard, Emmanuel Mudiay. But after Mudiay committed to SMU, he bailed on the school, choosing to play for pay in China.
He cited financial and family reasons, but Mudiay probably knows that playing a year in "college" -- basically a year-long pre-NBA workout and publicity tour -- would better serve his future earnings. More likely the decision is rooted in Prime Prep's inability to get its athletes eligible for the NCAA.
Or maybe he was just really eager to sign with Deion's buddies at Under Armor?