Wednesday, District Judge Cindy Truong ordered the parent corporation of the defunct SeeWorth Academy Charter School to stop spending money from accounts of the closed school and comply with Oklahoma school laws “effective immediately.”
The order was issued after a minutes-to-go negotiation between Justice Alma Wilson Seeworth Academy, Inc. and Oklahoma City Public Schools representatives outside the courtroom at the Oklahoma County Courthouse.
Although the charter school is now closed, the corporation and a foundation for the school have continued operation with some board members signaling that those two entities would go on anyway.
OKCPS had asked for a temporary and permanent injunction to stop SeeWorth from draining accounts in the interim when financial obligations were supposed to be disposed of for the 2019 school year ending June 30.
Andy Evans, with Oklahoma Public School Resource Center, the Closing Officer for OKCPS, is making sure the moveable property, academic records, and finances are transferred in compliance with Oklahoma school law.
He reported to OKCPS that new, heavy expenditures were being initiated in July.
In a sworn affidavit attached to the OKCPS petition, Evans reported that support staff from the former school were still in place and were getting regular salaries. He also reported that $30,000 had been paid with a cashier’s check on four new busses acquired in the last school year.
He also reported that on a tour of the property for real estate appraisal, he observed “approximately 20 boxes of financial records that have not been turned over to OKCPS.”
That’s when OKCPS filed the petition for an injunction.
The order also sets out a clear timetable for Justice Alma Wilson SeeWorth Academy, Inc. to surrender monies in accounts that had received taxpayer funds and to turn over all keys to the property allowing Oklahoma City Public Schools to retrieve equipment that should have been transferred to them as the sponsoring public school.
Truong set a Monday, September 9 deadline for turning over the keys so that the district can retrieve “all equipment, including but not limited to busses, computers, and athletic equipment, furniture, and records.”
“Plaintiff [OKCPS] agrees to pay the cost of any closing audit and the special investigative audit as well as any final utility bills incurred on or before September 3, 2019,” the order read.
The investigative or forensic audit will dig deeper into the organization’s finances than a normal audit would.
“We hope to finally focus our time and resources on serving our students who have been unfairly impacted by unnecessary delays and conflicts,” said OKCPS spokesperson Beth Harrison.
“We are proud of the work that our team at Putnam Heights Academy is doing for young people, and we look forward to getting these resources in their hands in the next few days.”
After agreeing to surrender the lease on the property near NE 122nd and N. Kelley Avenue, in June, the board notified OKCPS with only days to go before the start of school that they would not be surrendering the lease after all.
The move forced OKCPS to suddenly shift its alternative school program from the SeeWorth campus to the former Putnam Heights Elementary School which had been closed in recent consolidations.
In addition, the SeeWorth board had prohibited the district from retrieving supplies, equipment and busses state law says should be transferred to the sponsoring district.
By law, when a charter school closes, the sponsoring public school is to take possession of equipment, supplies, and money in accounts that received state education funds, which are derived from the taxpayers.
An orderly closure of accounts, payment of bills from the school year ending June 30, 2019, and transfer of equipment, all by state law, was agreed upon by the SeeWorth board.
The SeeWorth Academy charter school closed and surrendered their charter held through Oklahoma City Public Schools before the end of June once financial and special education irregularities were found by the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
Both Superintendent Janet Grigg and High School Vice Principal Stevie Taylor were fired by the board under heavy suspicion after the irregularities were uncovered.
Free Press broke the story that SeeWorth was being ordered by the State Department of Education to stop procedures that were not in compliance with Oklahoma school law.
The resulting skeptical press and broadcast media exposure of SeeWorth seemed to be a shock to board members who were accustomed to no exposure or only glowing accounts of seemingly heroic deeds with high-needs students.
The attention was greeted with discomfort by some of the board members and open hostility by board president Lee Anne Wilson, an attorney, and daughter of the late Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Alma Wilson for which the school was named.
In the feature photo, she can be seen holding her hand over her face as Free Press was taking photos of her entering the courtroom for the trial.
Sustain our journalism by becoming a supporter
Oklahoma City Free Press is dedicated to providing high quality journalism that positively impacts our community. Click this link or the red button below to support our mission.