The SeeWorth Academy charter school board voted Friday morning to give up its charter and end its current contract with Oklahoma City Public Schools.
Free Press broke the story about SeeWorth being in serious trouble with the Oklahoma State Department of Education Friday, May 24. Then, earlier this week, we reported that consideration to surrender its charter was on the official agenda.
The official meeting of the board lasted about five minutes with only the reading of the minutes from the last meeting and the following item:
“3. Discussion, consideration and potential action to relinquish charter and terminate contract with Oklahoma City School District effective June 30, 2019, pursuant to Okla. Stat. tit. 70 par 3-137.”
The motion to carry out that item was made, seconded and it passed.
It remains unclear what the status of teachers and staff will be going forward.
Speculation is that Oklahoma City Public Schools may take over the school, but no decisions have been made.
Teachers in limbo
An hour before the board meeting, teachers attended a meeting where they were told what the arrangements might be going forward.
They were told that currently there are 67 adjudicated kids attending SeeWorth Academy and that there was a great deal of interest in the court system for keeping those students enrolled in a school.
Leaders told the teachers that SeeWorth had been the “alternative school to the alternative schools.”
Teachers were reassured that they would be paid through June 30, which is the end of the district’s fiscal year.
Some teachers were upset with that news because they had signed contracts with SeeWorth that went August to August.
Leaders several times said negotiations were still going on with OKCPS and nothing definitive was known for now, but teachers would be notified as new developments occurred.
After the meeting, the press and broadcast media asked board member, Judge Barbara Swinton, why the board voted to take the action.
“In meetings with State Department of Ed and Oklahoma City public schools, we have come to the conclusion that that’s what’s in the best interest of our kids,” said Swinton.
In response to a request by Free Press, Joy Hofmeister, State Superintendent of Public Instruction issued this statement:
The Seeworth board is to be commended for its swift and decisive action. What’s most important now is that all parties continue to work together in the best interest of students affected by today’s decision.
Sean McDaniel, Superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools responded to our request with this statement soon after the vote:
We appreciate the Seeworth board and staff for their many years of dedicated service to OKCPS families and students. We look forward to working with them as we make this transition, and I assure the students and families who have called Seeworth ‘home’ that our priority is to take care of them and to meet their needs. We will begin working to do so today, and we will be in communication with them as soon as possible.
Steve Davis, a community leader who has been instrumental in developing the Makers of Men program in the metro was still mystified by what seemed to be a rapid turn of events.
He has worked as a contractor for the school on and off over the past several years to help SeeWorth students develop a better path in their lives.
“I was kinda caught off guard by it all,” said Davis.
“This school has been extremely valuable,” Davis said. “If [the students] did not have this school to attend, they’d be on the streets.”
The current president of the board is Lee Anne Wilson, daughter of Justice Alma Wilson, who played a key role in building public support for starting the school in the late 1990s.
Free Press asked if it was hard to go through that process for her since her mother was so instrumental in starting the school.
“I’m not going to go there,” Wilson said. “You know, we did what we needed to do. Now, we’re moving forward.”
Justice Alma Wilson was the second female district judge in Oklahoma history and, after being appointed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, eventually became the first female Chief Justice in state history.
Her compassion for students who had been expelled from Oklahoma City Schools led her to push for the school so that students could have a place to continue their education instead of being out on the street.
Free Press was first to report Friday, May 24 that SeeWorth was in serious trouble with the Oklahoma State Department of Education for “gross neglect and non-compliance with both state and federal laws and regulations.”
The long-term executive director and superintendent of the charter, Janet Grigg was named in a May 3 letter from Brad Clark, general counsel for OKSDE demanding compliance with a number of record-keeping and financial reporting requirements of the OKSDE.
SeeWorth has operated with large sums of taxpayer dollars over the years both shared from Oklahoma City Public Schools and in U.S. Department of Education pass-through grants to the school, thus, requiring accountability for the use of those funds.
The letter said the OSDE had:
… reviewed information evidencing that the School, via its administration, has failed to properly account for taxpayer funds, failed to properly maintain accounting records relating thereto, as well as failed to provide services to students with disabilities in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act … and specifically as related to the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).
The letter also demanded that records for an irregular “corporate account” be returned to the school grounds from Talihina, Oklahoma, where the OKSDE believed them to be in a private residence, in clear violation of state rules about school record keeping.
The school’s administrators had from March 19 to their deadline on May 3 to provide updated and adequate records. But, the records were not produced by the time the letter was sent.
“The OSDE has made phone calls and sent requests for any such supplemental information that the School has in its possession,” the letter reads. “However, to date, responses have not been received.”
Since those demands were not met, the department has launched a “further inquiry.”