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Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Matt Mathias told Mason Academy Board members at a May 9, 2016, meeting about a lower interest loan commitment he was offering the school if Collier County school board member Kelly Lichter would resign from Mason’s board. Mathias’ proposal was discussed by board members at the meeting, but he did not attend. The story also should have made it clear that just two of the six Mason board members who served during the school’s first academic year remain on the board. The story has been updated to correct the error.

Leadership at the Mason Classical Academy charter school founded by Collier County school board member Kelly Lichter faces complaints about management, including a decision that could cost Mason more than $1 million after Lichter rejected a call to resign from its board.

Lichter's fellow Collier school board members will consider final action Tuesday on a new contract for the charter school to operate in the county — Lichter has recused herself from voting on issues directly related to Mason considered by the Collier school board.

Some school board members have expressed concern over complaints they've received about the school's management.

This comes as some of Mason's former board members have also raised concerns about Lichter's management.

Matt Mathias, a former Mason board member who also served on a finance advisory committee for the school, cited problems last year with Mason's management and leadership, according to emails obtained through a public records request. 

At the time, Mathias was helping secure at least $1.5 million in loans through investors to convert office space into classrooms and other renovations to the school's rental space.

"Our school has no strategic plan, we have only a paltry few stated goals, no identified benchmarks to measure success, no roadmap, etc.," Mathias wrote in a Feb. 5, 2016, email sent to Lichter and other academy board members.

He said he was concerned that "our leadership team's focus has drifted from delivering a classical education to one of focusing on the 'politics' of our community, as well as other directions driven by devious interlopers."

Mathias told board members a proposal to lend the school $1.5 million at 9 percent interest "is now on hold."

That same day, Mathias wrote Lichter personally to say he believed her leadership style was making it difficult to persuade investors to lend the school money needed for improvements.

"I am having a difficult time encouraging investment into an endeavor where leadership continues to live in the headlines," he wrote.

More: DCF probing incident at Mason Classical Academy

At a later Mason meeting, board members discussed Mathias' proposal to continue lending the school money if Lichter would resign from the board, according to those who attended the meeting.

Mathias, who resigned from the board earlier to avoid a conflict of interest with his loan offer, declined requests for comment.

Lichter considered the offer, asking then-board members Jason Lane and Byron Donalds if they would accept the offer if they were in her position. Both said they would take the offer and step down. 

Lichter decided to keep her position on the board and accepted a loan from another private investor who offered to lend the money at a 14 percent interest rate over 12 years.

Lichter’s decision could cost the school more than $1.1 million if Mason takes 12 years to repay the 14 percent interest loan, as opposed to a 9 percent loan for five years.

Donalds, who left the Mason board when he was elected last year as a state legislator from Collier, said he can't explain Lichter's decision.

“It’s not the decision I would have made,” said Donalds, whose wife, Erika, helped establish the school. “I made my point on that pretty clear.”

Just two of the six board members who served during the first term hold their position; a total of three members currently serve on the board.

Lichter declined to be interviewed but offered comment through Mason's lawyer, Shawn Arnold. 

In an email, Arnold confirmed Mathias offered a loan contingent upon Lichter's resignation. Arnold also confirmed Lane and Donalds advised Lichter to accept the offer, but the board chose not to vote to remove her when she declined. 

"The idea that someone would attempt to peddle influence over the school by using others' money is offensive to the Board," he wrote. "The School is highly successful and will be able to obtain lower rate financing in the future when it receives its high performing charter status."

Erika Donalds, who also declined to comment, sat on Mason's advisory board until she was elected to the Collier County School Board, where she is now vice chairwoman. 

The conditions of the loan and Lichter's decision have been largely unknown among Mason's community due to the few details provided in Mason's minutes, which are displayed publicly. 

For example, the minutes of that two-hour meeting read: “The subject of a possible loan restructuring was presented; a lengthy discussion ensued,” and a line stating Lichter “expressed her steadfast commitment to Mason Classical Academy.”

Donalds, who recently introduced a bill that would allow boards to meet in private, conceded Mason's minutes are, in general, “very thin.”

Donalds repeatedly pushed for the adoption of a Five-Year Strategic Plan for Mason that would increase the minimum number of board members from three to five by the 2015-16 school year and to nine by 2017, records show. 

The plan, which Donalds helped draft, would have also required school staff to participate in customer service training. The board, led by Lichter, voted against it. 

Donalds said he included this requirement because of what he called the Mason administration's “demonstrative tone” toward parents, citing specifically Lichter and David Hull, the school's principal. 

Dozens of parents, teachers and administrators have also complained about what they characterize as antagonistic communication from Mason's leadership, particularly toward those who've spoken negatively about the school in public. 

It's part of the reason why the majority of the nearly 40 people interviewed for this article requested their names not be included. 

“Many of us are still paralyzed and petrified of speaking up,” said Whitney Treloar, whose two daughters no longer attend the school.

Although parents and former board members expressed concerns about management at Mason, many said they were extremely satisfied with the school’s rigorous curriculum.

Donalds said he plans to keep two of his three sons enrolled at the school.

“The education there is top-notch," he said. "It’s the best in the county."

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