CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The sign in front of Kennedy Charter School on Sharon Road West announces the school is reaching for success. But last year’s school report card issued by the state labels the school “low performing.”
But the non-profit charity that runs the school pays its top administrator $187,000 a year and paid his wife more than $120,000 a year. Taxpayers paid more than $2.4 million last year for students to attend the public charter, but it’s up to the non-profit’s board how the administrators are paid.
Rev. Dr. Fred Grosse is the president of Elon Homes for Children, which oversees Kennedy Charter. When asked how the school defined success, Grosse answered, “The ultimate success for us is that a child gets a high school diploma.”
But as children work through elementary school toward that diploma, he said “the ultimate success is that you’re at grade level. Period.”
Last year fewer than half the students at Kennedy Charter were on grade level.
No question Kennedy Charter and Grosse have their work cut out for them.
“We serve a high poverty population; some of our students are homeless,” Grosse said. “We serve 90–91 percent free and reduced school lunch.”
Kennedy Charter traces its roots to Elon Homes for Children and Boystown, which helped orphans and kids in foster care.
So when he looks at the test scores, Grosse said, “Those numbers lag for us, but we make no excuses and our numbers are low and they need to be better.”
It’s harder for Grosse to use poverty alone as an excuse for low test scores since other charter schools just across town like Sugar Creek Charter and KIPP Charlotte take similar students from the same neighborhoods and score much better.
“I’m the superintendent of schools so ultimately I’m responsible for everything,” Grosse said.
The leaders of other charter schools typically do not earn anywhere close to Grosse’s salary, but the comparison is not apples-to-apples in the sense that Grosse runs the non-profit Elon Homes for Children and Kennedy Charter School is only part of the non-profit’s mission. Elon Homes also operates foster care and mental health charities under its umbrella.
“I'm not an educator,” Grosse said. “I run a non-profit, but that's part of what we do.”
So while his heart may be in the right place, he doesn’t have a degree in education. “I like the part about our hearts in the right place, “ he responded. “We recognize we can do better; I would not compare us to the others who are not at K-12 with our population.”
Schools like KIPP Charlotte and Sugar Creek Charter do not educate high schoolers who may have fallen father behind.
IRS 990 tax forms show that in addition to the Grosse’s salaries totaling more than $307,000 in the last reported year, the charity also loaned the couple $175,000 to cover the mortgage on a home they could not sell and two years ago reported paying a country club membership for the CEO.
“My salary is determined by an outside expert for our board who I work for,” Rev. Grosse said. “Our salaries are set based on Elon Homes Inc. and the school salaries are all separate from that.”
Kennedy Charter has struggled to attract students. It accepts all who apply and does not have a lottery or a waiting list like many other charters because there’s not the demand.
Kennedy is moving next year to the campus of Johnson C. Smith University, closer to many of its students in northwest Charlotte.
“We think within the next two years we’re going to make significant strides,” Grosse said.
The Bible says “The laborer is worthy of his hire.” But Grosse is not paid by the church, but by taxpayers and contributors to the charity he operates. And while it may not be fair to compare his salary directly to other school leaders, it is fair to ask what the taxpayers are getting for their support of Kennedy Charter.