A trio of intertwined charter school networks operating within Houston ISD have paid or lent at least $17 million during the last five years to a company owned by their highest-ranking employee, an unusual arrangement drawing criticism from some HISD school board members ahead of a vote to renew their contracts.
Financial records show the Energized For Excellence, Energized For STEM and Inspired For Excellence academies have maintained deep ties with a company controlled by Lois Bullock, who founded the three networks and works as the head of schools for each.
Over the past half-decade, Bullock’s company has served as the landlord for Energized For Excellence Academy, taking in $10.8 million in lease payments, and received a $4.2 million loan from the organization, records show. Bullock’s company also earned about $2 million over five years for her “labor and job benefits,” an annual amount roughly equivalent to the compensation of HISD’s superintendent. The three charter networks enroll about 4,000 students at eight campuses, while HISD serves nearly 210,000 students.
In an email, a lawyer representing the charter networks’ leadership said Bullock and Carrington no longer could meet “due to the demands of educating more than 4,000 HISD students and the ongoing charter renewal negotiations.” The lawyer, Darrick Eugene, said his clients stated they “adhere to the laws and regulations governing nonprofits in the state of Texas and to generally accepted accounting principles.” His statement did not address any specific financial dealings between the charter networks and Bullock’s company.
In-district charters are funded by taxpayers and governed by nonprofit organizations through contracts with HISD. The agreements do not explicitly prevent financial ties between the charters and their employees.
Bullock founded Energized For Excellence Academy in 1998, later adding the Energized For STEM and Inspired For Excellence academies in 2008. The organizations have been governed by three-person boards, sharing some of the same members. They include NAACP Houston Branch President James Douglas, former HISD trustee Paula Harris and Missouri City dentist Opal Brandy.
Over the past five years, Energized For Excellence Academy has paid about $2 million annually in rent to Bullock’s company, which owns the three properties that house the charter network’s schools, according to financial and property records. The properties, located near Bissonnet and Hillcroft in southwest Houston, had a combined appraisal value of $8.1 million and property tax bills totaling $170,570 in 2018. In an interview last year, Douglas said the Energized For Excellence governing board preferred to let Bullock’s company, rather than the nonprofit, assume the long-term debt associated with purchasing the properties, which were bought in 2001, 2006 and 2009.
“We were leasing, and she made an arrangement to buy the property from the person we were leasing from,” Douglas said. “If we lease property from any other property owner, I can’t tell you whether they make a profit. All I can tell you is that the lease rate we’re paying is market rate.”
Records also show Energized For Excellence Academy lent Bullock’s company $4.2 million in 2015 — equivalent to three months of operating revenue — at an interest rate of 5 percent. Terms of the agreement also called for Bullock to pay the full principal in one lump sum in October 2030, though records show she paid down $2.4 million in fiscal 2018.
It’s about the grift. Tying the grift to supposedly helping kids? Brilliant.