The education provided by Basis Schools may be exceptional, but the nonprofit schools' tax returns show they have something in common with many Arizona charter schools: Hiring relatives and paying executives more than many public and private schools.
In 2007, the last year for which the school's 990 tax forms are available, Basis paid CEO Olga Block and Chief Operating Officer Michael Block $175,000 and $140,000, respectively. Together, the married couple who founded the school made $315,000 that year, up from $216,000 two years earlier.
The school hired Olga Block's daughters in 2007, paying Petra Vyborna $23,634 as employee compensation and Michaela Vyborna $2,255 for public-relations material design.
For its accounting, the school turned to Olga Block's sister in the Czech Republic. Katerina Schmidtova was paid $61,461 in 2007 for accounting services via the Internet and $36,893 in 2006.
Michael Block's son, Robert, also was hired by the schools - as an employee for $8,500 in 2006 and as a provider of IT services for $13,769 in 2005.
Michael Block did not return a call seeking comment.
The Blocks' salaries compare with about $86,000 per year for the last permanent principal at University High School, Rose Beetcher. Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen makes $205,000 a year.
David Safier, a retired Oregon high school teacher and local Democratic activist who has followed charter schools closely as a blogger, said the Blocks' salaries sound high, but he doesn't want charter-school pay limited. More important, he said, is that the public be given easy access to detailed financial information, including salaries, so people can understand a school's finances before sending their children to it.
The Blocks' pay and the hiring of relatives don't bother Matthew Ladner, vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute and a board member at Basis' school in Scottsdale. "Broadly speaking, as long as they're knocking the ball out of the park, academically speaking, I can't say that I'm troubled."