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September 11th, 2012 By German Lopez | News | Posted In: Government, News, Education

State Auditor: Charter School Wasteful, Unethical

Hamilton County school overpaid in potential conflict of interest

dave yostState Auditor Dave Yost

State Auditor Dave Yost released an audit today looking at Value Learning and Teaching (VLT) Academy’s 2010-2011 school year, and the findings are not pretty. The charter school, which is located in downtown Cincinnati, was found to be potentially overpaying in multiple instances — including potential conflicts of interest.

“Those who are entrusted with taxpayer dollars must take special care and spend them wisely,” Yost said in a statement. “This school appears to have management issues that must be addressed quickly.”

In a potential conflict of interest, the school paid Echole Harris, daughter of the school’s superintendent, $82,000 during the school year and $17,000 for a summer contract for the position of EMIS coordinator, who helps provide data from VLT Academy to the state.

Mysteriously, the school did not disclose the summer contract in its financial statements. The school says the superintendent abstained from all decisions related to Harris and presented the summer contract to the school board. Still, Yost referred the situation to the Ohio Ethics Commission.

The audit also criticized VLT Academy for approving a $249,000 bid for janitorial services that were owned and provided by a school employee. The bid was the most expensive among other offers ranging between $82,000 and $135,600. According to the school’s own minutes, “Each company states that they can deliver a work product that will meet or exceed the standards provided in our checklist,” adding little justification to the high payment and potential conflict of interest. The school insists its pick was the best qualified because it offered additional services. The bid approval was also referred to the Ohio Ethics Commission.

The school was found to be overpaying its IT director as well. Keenan Cooke’s salary for the 2010-2011 school year was supposed to be $55,000, but the school overpaid him by $3,333 with no record of intent. The state asked for Cooke and Judy McConnell, VLT Academy’s fiscal officer, to return the excess payment to the state. The school acknowledged McConnell's responsibility.

To make the potentially excess payments worse, VLT Academy had a net asset deficiency of $412,754 as of June 30, 2011, according to the audit. The school promised the auditor it will cut costs and find revenue generators to make up for the loss.

 
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