by David Safier
No sector — not local governments, school districts, court systems, public universities or hospitals — misspends tax dollars like charter schools in Ohio.To be fair, we do get some good investigative journalism here in Arizona, especially given how shrinking budgets have stretched reporters to the breaking point — some of it looking at education in general and charters in particular — but this angle is begging to be explored.
A Beacon Journal review of 4,263 audits released last year by State Auditor Dave Yost’s office indicates charter schools misspend public money nearly four times more often than any other type of taxpayer-funded agency.
Since 2001, state auditors have uncovered $27.3 million improperly spent by charter schools, many run by for-profit companies, enrolling thousands of children and producing academic results that rival the worst in the nation.
And the extent of the misspending could be far higher.
[The private audits] aren’t designed to detect fraud. They merely check revenues against expenses, ensuring tax dollars going in match receipts and cash balances.Arizona's regular charter school audits, like Ohio's, are conducted by private companies.
Often, though, the receipts are unavailable.
“You have a system in Ohio, and everywhere else, where every single year charter school operators are getting audited. And every single year, those audits come up clean. It’s because they are not set up to catch fraud waste and abuse,” [Kyle Serrette, director of Education at the Center for Popular Democracy] said.
And the difference between state and private auditors was profound: For every $1 private auditors found to be misspent, state officials found $102 in their audits.
[T]he previous board “explored” closing the school with 150 students attending after clashing with Imagine Schools over several issues, including the academy’s $58,000-a-month lease.Imagine schools are notorious for having disproportionately high rents, and that includes some of the Imagine schools in Arizona.
The lease is with SchoolHouse Finance, a subsidiary of Imagine Schools Inc., raising questions about a possible conflict of interest.
Board members complained that the $700,000 annual lease consumes too much of the school’s $1.3 million annual budget. According to the Franklin County auditor’s office, the building, at 4656 Heaton Rd., is valued at $1,164,600.