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Posted at 02:22 PM ET, 12/10/2011

Brother of VP Biden promotes charters, invoking family name

Francis W. “Frank” Biden, a younger brother of Vice President Joe Biden, is a real estate developer in Florida. He also is helping a for-profit company open charter schools in the state by employing a major asset: his last name.

In February, Frank Biden urged the Palm Beach County School Board to approve a charter school proposal from the company, known as Mavericks in Education.

“I give you my word of honor on my family name that this system is sustainable,” Biden told the board in the videotaped Feb. 2 special meeting. “This school will be sustained.”

Afterward, the board voted to approve the Mavericks proposal, overriding a staff recommendation to deny the application because of questions about its fiscal soundness and academic quality.

In late November, another Mavericks application to open three more schools in Palm Beach County was removed from a board agenda shortly before a meeting.

“There’s been so much confusion about the real success rate of some of the students [in Mavericks schools] that the board wanted to get more information about that,” said board member Marcia Andrews. “They work with really at-risk students and we wanted to make sure they were making a difference.”

Biden, in a telephone interview, said that he is sure any issues can be resolved.

He said he does not trade on his family name, although he does like to mention his big brother, whom he called “his hero,” when he meets with people, even at meetings where he is promoting Mavericks.

“I never invoke his name other than to tell people I am his younger brother and I love him,” he said.

Frank Biden said his last name matters because people understand that the Biden family has a history of “taking care of people who need help.”

“It’s a tremendous asset,” he said of the name. “I enjoy automatic acceptance or at least listening to what I have to say.”

Vice President Joe Biden’s office declined to comment.

The Obama administration has supported the expansion of charter schools, and through the Education Department has provided significant funding to help them develop and grow. At least three of the Mavericks schools have received $250,000 federal grants through the state, state documents show.

The vice president, 69, is the oldest of four siblings. Frank Biden, 58, is the youngest.

Frank Biden served in the mid-1990s as director of the Office of Congressional, Legislative, and Public Affairs of the U.S. Government Printing Office.

Mavericks has operated in the Sunshine State since 2007. Eight Mavericks high schools are listed on the charter operator’s Web site in several Florida counties, including Miami-Dade and Broward.

Mavericks High Schools cater to students ages 15 - 21 who are at risk of dropping out of regular public schools or already have dropped out. The Mavericks Web site says its schools “provide an education offering an innovative, self-paced, contemporary, and individualized instructional program that results in a high school diploma, continuing education or a suitable vocation.”

Frank Biden said that he is president and chief development officer of Mavericks. “I’m the big cheese,” he said. He is listed as a lobbyist for Mavericks on the state Legislature’s Web site. His Twitter biography says: “President and founder of Cygnus International LLC, a real estate development and consulting firm; brother of US Vice President, Joe Biden.”)

Biden said it is his role to identify locations for schools, and then talk with superintendents and school board members.

“We look at ourselves as an extension of the public school system,” he said. “These schools are for kids who have unwed moms, kids in court, kids who can’t read, kids who live in poverty, kids who need a lot of help.”

The network’s schools have had academic struggles. (To be sure, so have many regular public schools that cater to highly at-risk populations.) At some Mavericks locations, not enough students are given state assessments to earn ratings from the Florida Education Department.

When students do take the tests, many of them do poorly. A report on annual yearly progress at Mavericks High of North Dade showed that 148 students took the reading Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in the 2009-10 school year--and none passed.

At the Pinellas County school, state records show that 17 of 119 students graduated and 42 dropped out in 2009-10. Graduation rates for individual schools are not listed on the Mavericks Web site.

In Palm Beach, the Mavericks application to open a high school for 550 students this year was initially recommended for denial. The school system’s staff said that the company had not shown it could educate all students, including disabled and gifted, and that it had not provided financial projections for the school over the term of its charter.

Mavericks appealed. As part of the process aimed at winning the appeal, Biden met with some individual school board members, according to the members. The charter was approved by the school board and announced on Feb. 8, 2011.

A press release issued by Mavericks about the approval in Palm Beach noted Frank Biden’s connection to the vice president, saying:

“Mavericks High’s Frank Biden (brother of Vice President Joe Biden), who worked tirelessly with the Palm Beach School District over the past year to bring this charter school to fruition, said: ‘The alarming increase in the number of high school dropouts in America is quickly becoming a national crisis. Mavericks High is a solution for children who are not succeeding in traditional high schools and provides a place where they can succeed, prosper, be prepared to pursue their dreams, and contribute to their local community and their nation’s future.’ ”

Mavericks has had mixed success with applications to open schools elsewhere in Florida.

In Orange County, an application to open a school was first denied by the staff of the school board because of academic issues — but it was approved last month by the panel itself.

In 2009, an application by Mavericks to open a new charter school in Hillsborough County was recommended for denial, according to this story by the St. Petersburg Times, because it was filled with errors and did not present a workable local governing board. The committee that reviewed the application also said that it was not impressed by Mavericks schools that members had visited in three other counties. Permission to open a school there was not granted.

Also in 2009, the state Board of Education denied Mavericks’ appeal to open a school in Hernando County.

Initially the application had been denied by the Hernando school board. Then the state Charter School Appeal Commission said the school could open. But the state board weighed in in March 2009, in a surprise move, overturning the commission, according to this story in the St. Petersburg Times.

According to this St. Petersburg Times story from 2009, the Pinellas County School Board approved a five-year contract with Mavericks in 2008. At the time two former school board members from Pinellas were on the Mavericks governing board. One of the two was a county commissioner at the time the school was approved.

Biden told the New Times of Broward and Palm Beach counties that he got involved with Mavericks after meeting Mark Rodberg, a restaurant developer who founded Mavericks, in a coffee shop. Rodberg had started Mavericks with the intention of using Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade as a celebrity spokesman, and there was a side deal involving a restaurant partnership, but those deals fell through. Rodberg sued Wade but the two sides settled last year.

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By  |  02:22 PM ET, 12/10/2011

 
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