The amount of taxpayer funds that must be repaid by the Richard Allen charter schools in Dayton and Hamilton grew to $2.2 million with yet another state audit released Wednesday.
The latest audit alleges $452,281 was overpaid to the schools’ management company, the Institute of Charter School Management and Resources, and says the Ohio Ethics Commission was asked to look into the former school director and her family’s ties to IMR.
“We work to catch and correct any financial issues,” State Auditor Dave Yost said. “Unfortunately, the correcting part isn’t happening at the Richard Allen Schools. Something needs to change – quickly – before any more public dollars are misspent.”
But Dayton-based IMR and school officials argue that the auditor refused to properly interpret the contract between IMR and Richard Allen Schools. The contract was changed to allow the school to pay IMR more money when the old contract expired in December 2012, but state officials say the changes cannot be applied retroactively.
“In no way do we feel IMR has mistreated or misspent the money of the schools,” school Superintendent Michelle Thomas said.
The conflict of interest issues raised by the audit include that former school director Jeanette Harris also was CEO of IMR until she stepped down from both positions in April 2012, and that school Treasurer Felix O’Aku also is chief financial officer of IMR.
Thomas is Harris’ daughter and is now superintendent of Richard Allen Schools and CEO of IMR.
“Due to (the) close relationship between the School and the Management Company, the Auditor of State believes there is a conflict of interest and this issue has been referred to the Ohio Ethics Commission,” the audit says.
In their official response to the audit, school officials wrote that they changed the school structure so the treasurer reports directly to the school board and they are requiring IMR to keep better expense records, but they are contesting many of the findings and any assertion that there’s a conflict of interest.
The audit released Wednesday was from payments for the 2011-2012 school year. Another audit released in February of the 2010-2011 school year claimed nearly $860,000 was overpaid to IMR that year.
A special audit covering July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2010 included another $929,850 in findings for recovery.
The schools in Dayton are Richard Allen Academy at 700 Heck Ave., Richard Allen Academy II at 184 Salem Ave. and Richard Allen Preparatory at 627 Salem Ave. The Hamilton school is Richard Allen Academy III at 1206 Shuler Avenue.
The schools in Dayton perform better than the Dayton city school district; the Hamilton school has lower scores than the public school district. They have nearly 1,000 students combined.
“If you take a look at Richard Allen’s history, we’re doing an excellent job of educating the students,” Thomas said. “We’re working very hard to educate our students and the money is being spent for the students’ education.”
State: Charter schools owe millions
April 2011 – State auditors launched an investigation into Richard Allen Schools after discovering $89,067 in funds allegedly misspent on things including overpayments to board members and buildings owned by the schools’ management company, the Institute of Charter School Management and Resources.
June 2011 – A Dayton Daily News investigation found that of the $6.5 million in tax dollars Richard Allen Schools received in 2009, more than $1 million went toward management and consulting firms founded by Jeanette C. Harris, Richard Allen’s CEO and president. The only oversight came from entities with which she had close ties.
Feb. 2012 – The Ohio auditor’s office said “booze, missing money, missing records and self-dealing” led to $929,850 in findings for recovery in a special audit of Richard Allen Academy charter schools.
Feb. 2013 – The Ohio auditor’s office again issued findings for recovery involving Richard Allen Academy charter schools, saying their management company owes taxpayers another $860,000.
Nov. 2013 – The latest audit alleges $452,281 was overpaid to the schools’ management company and says the Ohio Ethics Commission was asked to look into the former school director and her family’s ties to IMR.