Virtual charter schools in Broward, Palm Beach could close following audits

Virtual charter schools in Broward, Palm Beach could close following audits

Broward committee recommends closing virtual charter school

A pair of virtual charter schools in Palm Beach and Broward counties may soon shut down, following complaints of poor student performance, allegations of ethical breaches and hostility between the schools’ governing board and management company

An audit committee for Broward County schools recommended Thursday that the district terminate its contract with Florida Virtual Academy at Broward, which has been operating for three years.

The school’s governing board, the South Florida Virtual Charter School Board, also oversees Florida Virtual Academy at Palm Beach, which has been under review since Octoberby the Palm Beach County School District’s Inspector General. Together they serve about 350 students.

The charter schools are not affiliated with Florida Virtual School, the longtime state-run online education program.

“Our intent is to move forward with the recommendations and come to some kind of closure process, either voluntary or otherwise,” Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said.

And indeed, the schools in both counties may close voluntarily, said Philip Morgaman, president and CEO of the South Florida Charter School Board.

“Voluntary dissolution is a viable alternative, and it’s certainly one of the alternatives our board will consider, and it may very well be the most likely,” he said.

Morgaman said he wants to receive the Palm Beach County audit before holding a special board meeting. He said that would likely happen at the end of the school year, so students wouldn’t be displaced mid-term.

The Broward auditfound numerous academic deficiencies at the school. It said the school failed to provide evidence that students were receiving the required instructional time for reading, failed to provide a “clear and comprehensive grading system,” and failed to show it was following state law in regard to serving students with disabilities and limited English skills. The state is also penalizing the school by $200,000 because too many students failed their end-of-course exams.

Both schools received grades of D in 2013-14. The state hasn’t released grades for the 2014-15 school year.

Jeff Kwitowski, a spokesman for management company K12 Inc., which oversaw the school’s academics, declined to comment on the Broward audit or the possibility that the two schools may get shut down. The company also runs online charter schools in six other counties in the state, but they would not be affected by the actions of the South Florida board, Kwitowski said.

Problems involving the two schools came to light in October after K12 Inc. sent a letter to the Broward and Palm Beach counties’ superintendents accusing Morgaman of violating Florida’s ethics laws.

At issue were a $60,000 check written from the schools’ account to the United Schools Association, a Deerfield Beach-based nonprofit for which Morgaman serves as chairman and CEO, and a $40,000 check paid to Dane G. Taylor, the nonprofit’s chief administrative officer.

The letter prompted investigations from both counties. The Palm Beach County School District’s inspector general is still reviewing it but Broward County auditors agreed the board’s actions violated state statutes.

Morgaman said the United Schools Association served as the pass-through for the $60,000, and that the money actually went to other vendors. He said the board was trying to find consultants to help improve the schools, whose students have performed poorly.

He said the company agreed to repay the $60,000to avoid an appearance of a conflict of interest.

Morgaman said Taylor’s employment with the charter school board was independent of his work with the nonprofit association. Taylor’s work has included radio spots and other aspects of an advertising campaign, communicating with K12 and doing research.

The auditors found the money was paid to Taylor before he provided services, a violation of state rules.

stravis@sunsentinel.com or 561-243-6637 or 954-425-1421

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