Wednesday, SeeWorth Academy Charter School Board concluded the business necessary for turning over operation of the school to Oklahoma City Public Schools, once the sponsor of the school.
Monday, July 1, a new alternative school fully within OKCPS called “SeeWorth Academy” will start preparations for the new school year under the leadership of Principal Shane Nelson.
Two administrators fired
The minutes from the last meeting confirmed that Janet Grigg, SeeWorth superintendent, and Stevie Taylor, SeeWorth high school vice principal had been fired by the board.
Since it was a personnel issue, no board member was willing to speak on or off the record about why the board had specifically chosen to fire those two individuals and no one else.
SeeWorth, Inc. – SeeWorth Foundation
Wednesday was the first day that anyone on the SeeWorth board has confirmed to Free Press that other parts of the SeeWorth circle of organizations would exist beyond the school hand-off to OKCPS.
After the meeting was adjourned, Judge Barbara Swinton, one of the board members, confirmed that the organization SeeWorth, Inc. and the SeeWorth foundation would continue.
It is not known what plans are being made for actions of the two entities beyond July 1 when OKCPS begins preparations for the beginning of the next school year.
The biggest mystery so far at SeeWorth, the so-called “corporate account,” continues to be just that, a mystery.
But, the board took action Wednesday by voting to employ a firm to carry out a full audit on the account.
Before the vote, there was some discussion about the need for the audit and what kind it should be.
Andy Evans with Oklahoma Public School Resource Center was observing the meeting because he is the lead staff member in making sure the moveable property, academic records, and finances are transferred in compliance with Oklahoma school law.
Needs to be reconciled
“The corporate account really needs to be reconciled because that would have to become a property of Oklahoma City Public Schools,” Evans said to the board.
“To become the property of Oklahoma City Public Schools, we need to know where the revenues came from. We need to know what the expenditures were.”
Board member Judge Barbara Swinton quietly responded.
“I think that we are not totally in agreement that because it’s a donation account, that it is going to be Oklahoma City’s property,” Swinton said to Evans.
Activity or donation fund?
Evans’ response was that if activity funds and donations were all kept together and activities expenditures were taken out, then the account would be a “contaminated” fund and the money would have to go to OKCPS in the transfer because it was an activity fund.
“If it’s donation money, I would agree with you 100%,” said Evans. “That’s what we need to know to make sure we’re doing the right thing.”
Oklahoma school law reforms in recent decades have been the harshest when it comes to the accounting for and spending of activity funds in public schools because of the potential for abuse.
It has been unclear since SeeWorth charter started to collapse what the corporate account was, what kind of money was deposited there, who had access to it, and how it was spent.
The handling of the account was so irregular the OKSDE mentioned the account by name in demanding compliance from SeeWorth Charter since May when OKSDE staff continued to uncover irregularities.
At one point, the Oklahoma State Department of Education stated that the financial books for the account were being kept in a private residence in Talihina, Oklahoma, and demanded that their return.
Talihina is in southeastern Oklahoma approximately 180 miles and a three-hour drive from Oklahoma City.
OKSDE has confirmed that the books have been returned as requested.
After the meeting, we asked Swinton what her view was on the corporate account.
“Well it’s a donation account,” Swinton said. “So, we are in negotiations with Oklahoma City as to many factors as to how things will be held and operated.”
The board took action to make sure that after the hand-off to OKCPS they would still have enough funds in the operating account to pay whatever encumbrances are still active.
According to Evans with the OPSRC, the books have to be reconciled and closed by January 1.
Law firm retained
The board voted to issue an engagement letter to the law firm of Rosenstein, Fist, and Ringold after having employed them for representation earlier in the process.
Even though the board had voted on a similar measure to end the current charter school SeeWorth Academy, they voted again with more specific language to satisfy OKSDE requirements.
The board voted to approve “the return of charter authority for Justice Alma Wilson SeeWorth Academy to Oklahoma City Public Schools effective July 1, 2019.”
Free Press broke the story
Free Press broke the story about SeeWorth being in serious jeopardy with the Oklahoma State Department of Education May 24.
We used documents obtained through an open records request to the OKSDE that showed several departments in the OKSDE were asking questions about IEP accommodation records and citing deficiencies in financial accountability.
Of special interest at the time was the “corporate account” which appeared to be a general fund that administrators were keeping donation money and other funds in as they received it without the account being a part of the regularly required order of bookkeeping for public schools in Oklahoma.
Record-keeping for the many special education accommodations the school was supposed to be providing for learning-challenged students either had not been delivered or records were in such disarray it was impossible for OKSDE staff to determine compliance.
General administration of the school had been so bad, OKSDE general counsel Brad Clark warned them their accreditation was at risk because of “gross neglect and non-compliance with both state and federal laws and regulations.”
The letter cited the school’s “cash management procedures” as being “deficient and non-compliant.”
We also reported in advance that the SeeWorth board was considering giving up their charter with Oklahoma City Public Schools.
Then, we reported the board’s actions to close.