Circuit Judge Elsa Lamelas said the case “raises so many questions about just what is going on at that school.” She also noted concerns about the voucher program overall, saying, “It seems that it is easy pickings for people who are not inclined to be honest.”
The May 3 sentencing involves James A. Mitchell, CEO of Alex’s Academic (sic) of Excellence, a voucher school that opened this school year. In 1971 Mitchell was convicted of rape after he and a friend slapped, threatened to kill, and raped a woman at knifepoint. Mitchell was sentenced to 30 years, released on parole in 1980 but returned to prison until 1984 for a burglary that violated parole.
The tax fraud charges stem from a non-profit treatment center for juveniles that Mitchell started in 1991. The center closed two years later when Mitchell was unable to make a profit, according to the May 4 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The article reported that Mitchell owed the state withholding taxes for employees and that Mitchell wrote checks for thousands of dollars in cash with little explanation.
Critics of the voucher program have repeatedly raised concerns about lack of accountability. Private schools in the voucher program do not have to run background checks on employees. Although parents and employees had raised concerns about Alex’s Academic of Excellence this winter, the state Department of Public Instruction has extremely limited authority to regulate private schools and investigate how well they are running.
Earlier this year, Alex’s Academic of Excellence was forced to move after inspectors found numerous building code violations. The school has moved several times this year. Its owner is Diane Anthony, Mitchell’s girlfriend of 18 years. When an investigator for the sentencing report asked Anthony the address of the school, she couldn’t remember it. Anthony also said there were 12 employees at the school, “when in reality there were 16 employees,” Judge Lamelas said.
Mitchell is being paid about $58,000 a year by the voucher school. Anthony told the pre-sentence writer that Mitchell “mostly works out of the house,” but Mitchell claimed he worked about five hours a day at the school.
The school’s principal, Jerry Gilliam, was asked by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel if he was aware of Mitchell’s rape conviction. Gilliam said no. Asked if a convicted rapist should be around schoolchildren, Gilliam said, “Let me get back to you on that one.” Gilliam also criticized the writer of the pre-sentence report saying, “I heard it was real slanted negative. It seemed like she was a feminist.”