Monday, September 21, 2015

Washington State Charter School Updates

Today the Washington State Charter School Association announced that the state Supreme Court had granted their request for more time to file for a reconsideration of the ruling on the charter law from the Court.  The due date had been around this time and is now October 24th. 

I'm thinking the Court is a bit chastised for the timing of their ruling and may be throwing a bone out there.  I don't think it means much else.

Second, the State Auditor released an audit of First Place Charter School.  Below is the press release.  Pretty damning and expands even more on issues the Charter Commission had raised for months.
 


Public charter schools are required to follow state laws holding them accountable for the use of public resources. The state Charter School Commission asked our Office to conduct an audit of First Place Scholars Charter School, the first school to receive public funding under Washington’s Charter School Initiative, passed by voters in 2012. 

Our accountability audit found school management did not correctly report required information to the state, had not properly accounted for the use of some public funds, inappropriately mixed the business expenses of the private parent organization with the public charter school, and failed to follow provisions of the Open Public Meetings Act. 

First Place Inc., a Seattle nonprofit, has provided educational and other services to homeless and low-income youth for more than 20 years. In the 2014-15 school year, the organization’s private school became the state’s first public charter school. 

After we concluded our audit work, but before our report was published, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional Initiative 1240, the law authorizing charter schools to receive state funding as common schools. 

You will find on our website a brief summary of the accountability audit findings, the full report, including a response from school management, and other materials that offer context to the report. 

As for the audit itself (from Feb. 5, 2014-Feb 28, 2015):

- 80 students and an 11-person board?  Summit will have three schools in our region with just one 3- person board.  (The Charter Commission is not so happy with the size of the board nor its accountability to a overseer California board.)

As well, they never seemed to have a quorum for their meetings.  And here, it gets more confusing as FPS says they were trying to create a "corporate structure" whereby the school is separate from the non-profit and each has its own board.  (As you read further down in this thread, you'll see a disconnect where FPS says the two entities are the same.  Can't have it both ways.) 

- lack of internal controls for enrollment (they overstated how many students would enroll and then got overpaid by the State and had to pay it back). 

- Lack of separation between the non-profit and the school and keeping money separate.  FPS used public funds for non-profit uses with documentation issues as well for the spending.  FPS says there is NO separate non-profit - that the school and the non-profit are the same.  I find this issue particularly troubling because if what FPS is saying is true, I cannot understand how the Auditor could not see this in FPS' documentation.

- apparently instructional staff was not paid "in accordance with contracts"

- no formal financial plan

- did not comply with Open Public Meetings Act/lack of training for staff about OPA

- the school was "unable to serve any special education students"

- they were overpaid in the audit time period by $200,372

- Between July and August 2014, there were three separate cash withdrawals, totaling over $85K that had little documentation for the spending.  (First Place says these were cashier checks and they provided documentation for where the money went.)

It would seem - between the Charter Commission and the State Auditor - that First Place Scholars needs to pull itself together.  Depending on what happens with the charter law, they could be out of business anyway but this audit - in total - is dismaying.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

- the school was "unable to serve any special education students" Sounds like few SPS schools.


glass house

Melissa Westbrook said...

Certainly but that's not the issue here. Why have charters if it's the same issues as public?

Anonymous said...

So charters were/are supported because they're going to solve the problem the legislature refuses to solve and make some money for Reform Inc. The story of FPS is tragic. The kids they serve really need them and FPS should be able to serve more kids. Dawn Mason and Linda Whitehead certainly know about open meeting law and how to separate monies and whether or not FPS is a charter or a non-profit, so who screwed up?

Westside

Melissa Westbrook said...

Everyone has the same question and no one can give an answer: how did FP operate for decades as a private school and when they turned charter, it all fell apart? I don't get it.

Another Question said...

Seattle Times:

"Inappropriately mixed business expenses of First Place’s private parent organization with those of the public charter school;"

Public or private?

Anonymous said...

So why doesn't Bill Gates and the Walmart family bail them out? The one charter school who actually helps kids in need and who has already been operating for a year?

HP

Melissa Westbrook said...

Another Q, the non-profit is trying to be private while the school is "public." But there is a disconnect in the audit between one issue of co-mingling money and FPS says the non-profit and school are one and the same and THEN saying the boards are separate for separate entities.

HP, I asked at the Charter Commission why the WA state Charter School Assn wasn't helping FPS or the Gates Foundation. I suspect that whoever is bailing out the rest of the charters is also bailing out FPS but that doesn't clear their debt to the State.

I am still trying to find out where this angel donor money is coming from.