One Broward County charter school plans to close, another may be forced to shut down
Mark Randall / Sun Sentinel
Florida Virtual Academy at Broward agreed on Monday to voluntarily close at the end of the school year, following an audit that revealed poor academic performance, allegations of ethical breaches and a poor working relationship with between the schools’ governing board and management company.
The South Florida Virtual Charter School Board also operates the Florida Virtual Academy at Palm Beach and has agreed to close that school as well, pending the results of an investigation by the inspector general for Palm Beach County schools. The charter schools are not affiliated with Florida Virtual School, the longtime state-run online education program.
A Lauderdale Lakes charter school, Pathways Academy, was recommended for termination after district auditors said school leaders falsified documents, inflated student enrollment and used state money for personal travel and expenses.
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The district conducted the audit after Andrew Ramjit, an administrator from May to August of last year, sent a letter of complaint to Inspector General for the Florida Department of Education, which investigates fraud and mismanagement. Chief Auditor Pat Reilly said he sent the district’s audit to the Inspector General on Thursday and expects it will lead to a criminal investigation.
The audit findings for Pathway Academy include:
•Inflating enrollment reports to get more money. The district identified $49,000 in overpayments to the school based on false enrollment figures. The school said the students in question may have been absent during enrollment counts, but there was no attempt to manipulate the figures.
•Forging the signature of teachers on evaluation forms and other documents. Ramjit alleged that teacher evaluations were altered to justify firing some teachers, A school attorney claimed Ramjit was responsible for teacher evaluations and any forgery was done by him.
•Spending charter school money on many personal items, including $3,000 to stay at resorts in St. Petersburg and Lake Buena Vista, $1,100 in questionable restaurant expenses, more than $1,400 for a refrigerator and maintenance contract that wasn’t used at the school, $75 for three bicycle lifts and $170 for questionable gardening supplies and a ceramic table top torch at Home Depot. The school claimed they were all for school uses.
For example, torch was bought after the janitor complained of excessive bugs and mosquitoes in the area, a lawyer for the school said, although Reilly said the school operates in a leased office building and there’s no lawn or garden to maintain.
“It was one ridiculous response after another,” Reilly said.
The school sent a letter to the district last week saying that Principal Yudit Silva, the subject of most of the allegations, no longer worked for the school. Neither she nor the school’s lawyer could be reached.
The school has been plagued with high teacher turnover since it opened in 2013. All but one teacher during the 2014-15 school year left before the current school year and nine of 16 teachers employed this school year have already left, according to the audit.
A separate audit conducted of Florida Virtual Academy found numerous academic deficiencies at that school. Auditors 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.
The board has had a tumultuous relationship with its management company, K12 Inc, which ran the academics at school. The audit said if the board and K12 couldn’t work together, K12 should be replaced or the school should be closed. The board chose the latter option at a meeting Monday.
“It’s sad that this is the choice we reached,” said Philip Morgaman, president and CEO of the South Florida Virtual Charter Schools. “But at the end of the day, I think everybody thinks we can’t fix it with this contractor.
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