Two Elite Schools Face Management, Harassment Challenges

(Photo: Oxbridge Academy)

(Photo: Oxbridge Academy)

William I. Koch, the youngest of the billionaire brothers, dreamed of creating a private secondary school for academically gifted students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. He wanted his school to provide hands-on projects and education through solving problems. He spent $75 million building the Oxbridge Academy of the Palm Beaches.

But last week, turmoil became apparent when Koch had to fire the head of school and failed to renew contracts for the football coach and the athletic director. The reasons for his actions were that a sexual harassment complaint and an internal investigation into allegations of kickbacks, excessive spending, grade-changing, and violations of high school sports' rules had occurred.

Koch is 76 and the CEO of Oxbow Carbon L.L.C., an energy development holding company located in West Palm Beach. His brothers are Charles G. and David H. Koch, who are known for promoting conservative GOP causes. Some call William the "other Koch brother," according to The New York Times' Frances Robles.

Oxbridge Academy was established in 2011 and currently has 580 students enrolled. The academy has chef-prepared meals, physical therapists, a flight simulator, and an equestrian club. The school's debate team has traveled nationwide for competitions at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But troubles began when the school decided to have a football team. First, an athlete was given a full scholarship, but was only able to read at a third-grade level. And the newly appointed football coach earned over $200,000 annually.

Robert C. Parsons, the former president and chief executive of Oxbridge, hired in 2011, was previously the chief financial officer at the Naval Academy. Tax records show that his compensation deal at Oxbridge was worth $1 million which was seven times what he earned at the Naval Academy. He was, eventually, making approximately $600,000 annually. But Koch had hired Parsons even though in 2009 he was accused of maintaining a "slush fund" to operate tailgate parties.

Cheryl Taylor, the parent of a son and daughter who attend the school, said:

"At first, you had to be academically qualified, but that changed dramatically about two years in," Ms. Taylor said. "Football began to outshine everything else."

Ulle Sinisalu Boshko, the school's former controller, said that Parsons did special financial favors for those he liked or thought were attractive. Boshko says she was demoted after she spent months fighting off the advances of Mr. Parsons. She registered a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is currently pending.

Meanwhile, Tyler Kingkade, writing for The Huffington Post, reports that the elite St. Paul's Episcopal School in New Hampshire was the scene of bullying aimed at a student who reported a sexual assault. The young man in question was convicted of misdemeanor sexual assault.

The student, Owen Labrie, 18 in 2014, was accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old classmate as part of what was called a "Senior Salute" tradition. After the female student reported the incident, there was no effort to protect her from retaliation toward her due to turning in a favorite student.

The victim's suit attacks the school for not responding after it had received multiple reports about Senior Salute. The ritual centered on upperclassmen seeking younger female students for "intimate encounters."

Labrie was sentenced to one year in jail but is out on bail pending an appeal.

WMUR-TV's Shelley Walcott quoted the family's attorney Steve Kelly on his thoughts concerning the lawsuit that has been brought against St. Paul's:

"St. Paul's fostered a culture of misogyny and male privilege that deprived its female students of the safe and healthy educational environment they would expect from one of the nation's premier private schools."

St. Paul's administrators, however, call the lawsuit "without merit."

06 10, 2016
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