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State Investigates Charters For Million Dollars In Misspending

Ohio’s Auditor says the organization that represents some Dayton area charter schools misspent nearly a million dollars on things like booze, undocumented credit card purchases and other payments. And the audit shows there were potential conflicts of interest with family members and overpayments to the management company. State Auditor Dave Yost says the 2009 audit of the four Richard Allen Academy schools show almost a million taxpayer dollars were misspent. "There’s a whole range of recovery, from $1000 to buy booze, from several hundreds of thousands of dollars misspent, to overpaying the management company to a $172,000 transfer that we have no idea where it went. We had credit card purchases that were improperly reimbursed. There’s just a whole group of things that went wrong here." Yost says money for some questionable items, like the booze for a Monte Carlo party, has been paid back to the schools. When asked why the board that oversees these schools didn’t catch the problems, Yost explains there are problems with the board itself. "For example, one of the board members was hired on a couple of occasions to paint the schools. The daughter of the president of the management company was appointed principal then promoted to assistant superintendent then became superintendent so there are a number of tangled relationships here where there should be independence. Yost says he’s referred the matter to the Ohio Ethics Commission, as well as the Ohio Department of Education. He says that could result in possible criminal charges. Yost says any findings should not be taken as an indictment against charter schools in general. "Most charter schools operate ethically and efficiently. It’s a small minority that have problems like this. But among those that do have problems, this is one of the worst we’ve seen. This school is doing a good job educationally. The problems are on the financial side." An attorney for Richard Allen Academy Schools, Edmund Brown, says their charter schools are relatively new and the people who run them had just moved into the schools from the private sector. "As with any new entity, there are going to be growing pains," Browns says. "There were mistakes made on behalf of the schools going through the processes. And as you know, this was a fiscal 2009 audit. And it’s now February 2012. Most, if not all, of the issues addressed in the 2009 audit have been addressed going forward so they are non issues now." Brown says the documentation school administrators provided to explain many of the issues that were identified in the Auditor’s report was largely rejected. And Brown says the schools have been making changes that were suggested in the audit. Maybe so, but Auditor David Yost says that doesn't free the school from culpability. "This was action that was taken after the auditors came in. It’s like a cat trying to cover up on a linoleum floor."

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.