Last December, my colleague Alexis Huicochea and I wrote a package of stories about Basis Schools, the high-performing, high-profile group of charter schools that started in Tucson and has expanded across the state.
In this package, the small sidebar attracted more attention than the main piece. That's because the sidebar reported the salaries of the married couple who were the schools' founders and top executives, Olga and Michael Block. At that time, the most recent tax returns filed were for 2007, and they showed that together the Blocks made $315,000 in salary that year.
Now, the next year's tax return is available. It shows the Blocks' pay went up again in 2008. That year, then-CEO Olga Block made $197,507 and Chief Operating Officer Michael Block made $156,362. The grand total: $353,869 for the couple. (The filing says Olga Block resigned as CEO in May 2009, but she continues to play a key role in the organization.)
That's an 11 percent increase from 2007 to 2008.
When I asked people about the Blocks' salaries in 2009, some said it didn't really matter how high they are paid, as long as their schools are performing well. And that does seem in the broad spirit of the charter-school experiment: Give people tax money to run schools as they want (within some bounds), and see if they can do better than district schools.
However, after the story ran, I heard quite a bit of grumbling from inside Basis schools, because Basis teachers had recently been asked to do significantly more for the same salaries, due to alleged budgetary issues.
Another one of the more controversial practices I revealed in December also continued in 2008. Basis hired Olga Block's sister that year, too, to be the schools' accountant. The sister, Katerina Schmidtova, lives in the Czech Republic and was paid $53,047 to do the schools' books via Internet in 2008. That was about 14 percent less than the $61,461 Schmidtova was paid to do the schools' accounting in 2007.