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$500,000 payment to failed charter school principal sparks outrage

A Florida state senator is calling for an investigation into the payout of more than $500,000 to the principal of a failed Orange County charter school.

A school board chairman blasted the payout of taxpayer money, which has sparked outrage in Orlando, as “immoral and unethical.” 

Kelly Young, principal of NorthStar High School in Orlando, received a check for $519,453.96 in June, about the same time the Orange County School Board accepted the school’s plan to close in lieu of being forced to shut down based on declining student achievement, The Orlando Sentinel reported.

The Sentinel also reported that Young was “still being paid thousands of dollars a month” at the time to complete the school’s affairs. The school serves about 180 students in east Orange County.

Young's payment was authorized by the charter school's independent board, which is separate from the Orange County School Board, in June. At the time, the independent board called it "well-deserved and earned for her years of dedicated service at a below-market rate of compensation," the Sentinel reported.

Attempts by NBC News to contact Young on Thursday were unsuccessful.

Orange County School District officials say they were unaware of the principal's payment because the school isn’t required to report it under Florida's charter school law, according to the Sentinel.

Young’s attorney, Larry Brown, said the payment was justified. "Here's a lady with no retirement, who at that point had put six years of her life into the school, feeling like she had to make provision for retirement in her contract," Brown told the Sentinel.

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While the payout appears to be legal, it has sparked outrage from State Sen. David Simmons and Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette.

"There's no room for abuse by charter or traditional schools," Simmons told the Sentinel. He called for an investigation. "All it does is hurt children."

"The law is very clear that school boards cannot put limits or control how a charter school spends their money, including payouts like this" Sublette told the Sentinel. He called the payment "a shameful abuse of public tax dollars" and "immoral and unethical."

Charter schools are privately run public schools with fewer regulations than traditional public schools. Charters, like public schools in Florida, receive state money based on student population.

Money leftover from charter schools is supposed to funnel back to school districts upon closure.

According to the Sentinel,

NorthStar, which had a balance of $717,293 at the end of the 2011 school year, has not turned over any money to Orange County Public Schools.

A statement provided to the district by the charter school showed a balance of less than $10,000 on June 29.

Young's payout was based on a contract that called for her to be paid about $305,000 per year through 2014, even though the school's contract was up for renewal in 2012. She was paid 85 percent of her remaining contract.

Young's salary was more than 2 1/2 times that of the highest-paid principal at a traditional Orange County public school in 2011: $116,565.

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