Breaking News
More () »

Memphis teachers owed thousands of dollars after school suddenly closes

Several former teachers at Individualized Intellect Institute (I3) said they never got paid while working at the South Memphis school before it unexpectedly closed.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. —

Some educators in Memphis are looking for answers after their school unexpectedly closed and they were left without pay. 

Just three weeks after the first day of school, the tuition-free private school Individualized Intellect Institute, or I3, shut its doors.  

One teacher told ABC24’s Eryn Rogers, “My life feels, it feels over because I can't seem to dig myself out of this hole.” 

Former I3 teachers asked ABC24 to protect their identities out of fear of retaliation. They said it’s been challenging since they suddenly lost their jobs.  

One teacher said, “I can't pay my rent. I can't get my car out of the shop.” 

They said everything started off well at I3. Staff was excited about the idea, but that soon changed.  

“The first payroll was set for July 15, and when that didn't come, there was supposedly an error in the funding.” 

Teachers said that kept happening.  

“Then around August 15, we get a check, one check for July payroll, and then one check for the first half of August, but those bounced.” 

They were facing weeks of unpaid work. One teacher said they were owed $13,000 for two months of work, and another teacher said they were owed $8,000.  

Even though the school was tuition-free, they were supposed to charge tuition for their online students, but no students signed up for that option.  

When ABC24 talked to CEO Dr. Michael Miles in September, he admitted to challenges in funding. 

“It’s a bumpy process," Miles said. “It is a startup.” 

 ABC24 reached out to the Tennessee Department of Education to see if there were any processes in place to regulate schools like I3. The school falls into a category that allows it to be open without accreditation, but it also means the state doesn't regulate finances for these schools.  

The DOE confirmed I3 was not eligible for state funding as part of that category. They also said any payment for staff would not be handled by the DOE since it was a private school. 

One teacher said, “I think accountability needs to happen. Audits that need to happen, especially within the first year, and certain benchmarks for audits need to be met.” 

Several former employees shared emails from Miles outlining possible funding sources. The emails showed lots of pledged donations and grants he said he applied for, but there was no funding secured. In that same email, Miles mentioned a more than $200,000 grant from the Shelby County Commission, but the Commission’s Education Chairman said they awarded I3 only $5,000, and it was never distributed. 

“As time progressed, he started seemingly hiding from us, and the lies became more elaborate,” one teacher said.  

Now teachers fear this experience may taint an education system where they said more options are needed. 

“My biggest concern is that a lot of people in the education sector were duped, and I think now people are shy of a new school opening up,” a teacher said.  

Dr. Miles said he had no comment on what was happening.   

In November, the state DOE confirmed I3 submitted the paperwork to close, so teachers were finally able to get the letter they needed to file for unemployment nearly six weeks after losing their jobs.  

As for the students, most of them were able to transfer to other schools, but it still disrupted their learning because it was the middle of the school year. Also, some of them couldn't get back into the charter schools they left. 

Before You Leave, Check This Out