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home : education : schools May 29, 2016


1/31/2010 8:26:00 AM
ODE raises charter school concerns
ODE letter/AllPrep response
Dear Superintendent Drakulich:

It has come to our attention that public charter schools managed through the EdChoices/All Prep organization have possibly violated the law and have engaged in other improprieties resulting in a pattern of fiscal, student accounting and operational issues that make oversight of the schools by sponsoring districts difficult. You are receiving this letter because your school district board is the sponsor of one or more of these schools. Although we do not have direct knowledge of a specific violation or impropriety for each charter school managed by the Ed Choices/All Prep organization, we have sufficient information that there is a pattern of practices that may implicate the specific school or schools sponsored by your board. Therefore, we are requesting that you review the practices of the school or schools sponsored by your board and provide a response to this letter.

As you know, it is the responsibility of a charter school's sponsoring board to hold the charter school accountable for complying with all applicable statutes and rules. ORS 338.095 and ORS 338.105 requires and authorizes charter school sponsors to review, monitor and possibly terminate the charter based on failure to meet contract obligations, fiscal sustainability, failure to meet student performance requirements and other related compliance and statutory stipulations.

The legal and oversight issues that are a concern to us include:

• Transfer of students between charter schools within the organizational structure without parent/guardian notification or approval.

• Transfer of students between charter schools within the organizational structure without sponsoring district or resident district knowledge.

These practices raise issues under both federal and state law. ORS 338.125 states that "student enrollment in a public charter school shall be voluntary." Transferring a student between schools and enrolling the student without parent or legal guardian permission violates this statute. Voluntary student enrollment requires the full knowledge and consent of the parent, legal guardian, or person in parental relationship of the student. In addition, these practices make it difficult for resident school districts and the charter school to meet their obligations under federal and state law for students receiving special education. Federal and state law makes the resident school district of a charter school student responsible for providing special education and related services to the student. Resident school districts must work in conjunction with parents and the charter school to create and implement the student's Individualized Education Plan. If a resident school district and the parent do not know which school a student is attending, it is difficult to ensure that the student's IEP is being implemented properly.

These practices also make it difficult for the sponsoring district to accurately report the ADMw of the charter school for State School Fund purposes and raise a question as to whether the ADMw of the charter school has been accurately reported.

• Inappropriately claiming students as attending the charter school for purposes of the so-called "50 percent attendance" provisions required of charter schools that provide online courses.

ORS 338.125(2)(b) requires a charter school that provides online courses to have at least 50 percent of the students who attend the charter school residing in the sponsoring district. Attendance at the charter school requires the school to provide educational services to the student. Educational services must include instruction by a licensed teacher provided by the school. Information has been provided to us that the some schools have claimed students as attending the school who have not been receiving instruction from a licensed teacher. Students who are in this category may not be counted as attending the school for purposes of the "50 percent attendance" provision. Merely having access to online instructional materials does not constitute attendance for purposes of this statute.

Information has also been provided to us that these schools may be claiming students that are attending the school less than one-half of the full day program of the charter school as full-time. OAR 581-020-0339 provides that only students who attend a charter school more than one-half of the full-day program may be considered as fulltime.

• Student enrollment accounting practices which do not follow ADMw protocols and procedures as required.

We have received information that students may have been claimed as enrolled in a charter school and for state funding prior to the charter of the school being signed and the opening of the school. ORS 338.005 provides that a public charter school must have a written agreement entered into by a sponsor and applicant. ADMw may not be claimed for students prior to the charter of a school being signed and the school being opened.

• Lack of operational presence within the sponsoring district boundaries.

ORS 338.005 requires a charter school to be located within the boundaries of the sponsoring school district. This provision applies to both charter schools that offer online instruction and "bricks and mortar" charter schools. When determining where a school is located, consideration is given to such factors as the location where the students enrolled in the school are receiving educational services, where the business address and office of the school is located, where student records are stored and where a parent may file a complaint or obtain information about a school.

We have received information that some charter schools do not have offices that are open during business hours within sponsoring districts and that student records are not available from business offices that are located within the sponsoring district. These practices raise a possible issue as to whether these schools are located within the sponsoring district. If a school is not located within a sponsoring district the school and district are in violation of ORS 338.005. In addition, these practices make it difficult operationally for a sponsoring district to monitor a school and for a parent to obtain information about a student or school.

• Two or more charter schools governed by one charter agreement. ORS 338.065 requires a written charter contract for each school.

We have received information that some charter agreements are inclusive of two separate school operations. This practice is not allowed under state law.

• Unlawfully merging charter schools.

ORS chapter 338, which governs charter schools in Oregon, does not provide for the merger of existing charter schools. Instead, one school must be closed and the assets disbursed according to state law and then the other school in conjunction with its sponsor may amend its charter to reflect the added program of the closed former charter school. ORS 338.105(6) requires all assets of a closed charter school that were purchased with public funds to be given to the State Board of Education.

We have received information that some schools may have been merged either with or without the approval of the sponsor. If this has occurred, the school in addition to being unlawfully closed may also be unlawfully in possession of assets that are the property of the State Board of Education.

• Improper comingling of funds between charter schools.

We have received information that some charter schools may be inappropriately comingling funds. State law does allow charter schools to contract for services with both public and private entities. However, each charter school is a separate legal entity and under ORS 338.095 must have separate annual audits and provide other financially related information. . If a school contracts for services there should be a clear record of what services are received and the amount of funds that are being paid in exchange for those services.

These are very serious issues, with serious consequences, that could result in possible forfeiture of State School Funds by the school district. Your immediate attention to this matter is requested.

As the district sponsor of a charter school managed through the Ed Choices/All Prep organization you must submit a response to this letter that includes the following:

• Evidence that a thorough review of your charter school's practices has taken place.

• A description of any changes to the operational practices of the charter school implemented to address the issues raised in this letter.

• An assurance that the charter school meets both state and federal legal requirements.

• Any corrective action that you have taken to address the issues identified in this letter.

• A timeline for monitoring of the charter school to ensure sustained compliance with federal and state law. Your response should be addressed to Phyllis Guile, and submitted to the Department not later than Monday, February 22, 2010.

It has also been brought to our attention that staff associated with these schools has encouraged district sponsors to not fulfill their obligations for dispensing the State School Fund portion of funds as per ORS 338.155(5) to the resident district of students who attend the school. We want to be very clear that school districts that do not distribute funds to other districts as required by state law are at risk of losing State School Fund moneys.

If you have questions regarding this matter, please contact Cindy Hunt at 503- 947- 5651 or Phyllis Guile at 503-947-5685.

Sincerely, Colleen Mileham, Ph.D. Assistant Superintendent Office of Educational Improvement and Innovation





ALLPREP RESPONSE

Officials of the AllPrep Academies and Early Colleges, a group of charter schools providing a modular, "blended-online" model of education to about 1900 Oregon children, met today to review their practices in response to a recent letter sent from the Oregon Department of Education to the superintendents of six Oregon school districts that sponsor the charters inquiring about the schools' practices and the districts' supervision of them.

"Our biggest challenge is communication," said schools director Tim King. "What we are doing has never been done in Oregon, and it's hard to explain to people."

King pointed out that school law has developed around geographically defined, bricks-and-mortar schools and school districts, and it has not kept pace with recent educational innovations.

"This is a developing area, and that presents a lot of compliance challenges that don't exist for conventional schools."

King also acknowledged that there have been some bumps in the road for the start-up charters and vowed continual improvement.

"Sometimes it's a matter of making sure people are talking to each other and managing workloads so that nothing falls through the cracks."

The letter, which was signed by ODE Assistant Superintendent Colleen Mileham, inquires about the charters' procedures and sponsoring district supervision in several areas.

Charter school officials emphasized that the letter was addressed not to them but to the district superintendents, who they expect will respond on behalf of each of their districts. However, the charter schools also released their own statement containing responses to ODE's inquiries. The major points of the ODE letter, along with the schools' responses, are reproduced verbatim below:

• Transfer of students between charter schools within the organizational structure without parent/guardian notification or approval.

There have been isolated problems with this in the past, but our current procedures require explicit written authorization, regardless of whether the transfer has any impact on a child's educational program.

• Transfer of students between charter schools within the organizational structure without sponsoring district or resident district knowledge.

Our student information database generates regular enrollment reports to our sponsors, and the business managers of each of our sponsoring districts have access to the database in case they have questions. With regard to notification of resident districts, (unlike students enrolled in regular district schools, charter students may cross district boundaries without permission from local school officials), we expect that proposed legislation will soon clarify our responsibilities in this area, and we will comply with all provisions, including providing student names or other information to resident districts within ten days of student enrollment in or withdrawal from a specific school.

• Inappropriately claiming students as attending the charter school for purposes of so-called "50 percent attendance" provisions required of charter schools that provide online courses.

We have complied fully with previous guidance from ODE's legal coordinator on this issue. We believe that proposed new guidance will make compliance simpler and clearer, and we will maintain attendance records as directed.

• Student enrollment accounting practices which do not follow ADMw protocols and procedures as required [the letter goes on to suggest that students may have been claimed for state funding prior to the signing of a charter and the opening of a school].

ODE requires a copy of a signed charter before it will issue an institutional identification number, which is a prerequisite to receiving funding for an enrolled student, so it would be impossible for a school to before a charter is signed and a school is opened. In any event, we certainly do not claim students for funding purposes prior to enrolling them in a charter school that has been authorized both by the sponsoring district and ODE.

• Lack of operational presence within the sponsoring district boundaries.

Every AllPrep school maintains a regularly staffed, bricks-and-mortar presence in its sponsoring district. These facilities range from a small office in Burns, to a leased elementary school in Baker and a learning center with a computer lab, classrooms and offices in Estacada.

• Two or more charter schools governed by one charter agreement.

We believe ODE records will confirm that each AllPrep charter school is authorized by its own charter.

• Unlawfully merging charter schools. No AllPrep charter school has ever been merged. • Improper comingling of funds between charter schools.

Each AllPrep charter school maintains its own books and is audited as required by law. There is no comingling of funds.

• Encouragement of districts to not fulfill their obligations for dispensing State School Fund moneys to students' resident districts.

We have never encouraged our sponsoring districts to disregard any of their obligations, and we do not believe anyone who tried to do so would be successful.

For more information, please contact Liz Walters at 503-867-3000.

By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

The Oregon Department of Education has raised concerns about the activities of the EdChoices/AllPrep organization that manages the Sisters Web Academy and several other charter school programs in Oregon.

ODE assistant superintendent Colleen Mileham sent a letter dated January 21 to the superintendents of each school district that sponsors a charter school program managed by EdChoices/AllPrep outlining issues ranging from possible inappropriate transfers of students to "unlawfully merging charter schools." (See the complete ODE letter accompanying the online version of this story at www.nuggetnews.com).

AllPrep operates in six school districts across the state, according to ODE.

The Sisters School Board voted last month to terminate its contract with the Sisters Web Academy, saying that the district had not received satisfactory answers to questions it raised about transfers and financial matters. The web academy offers online courses and other enrichment activities for students in Sisters and other districts.

In the letter to superintendents, Mileham stated that, "It has come to our attention that public charter schools managed through the EdChoices/All Prep organization have possibly violated the law and have engaged in other improprieties resulting in a pattern of fiscal, student accounting and operational issues that make oversight of the schools by sponsoring districts difficult."

ODE listed its concerns as follows:

• Transfer of students between charter schools within the organizational structure without parent/guardian notification or approval.

• Transfer of students between charter schools within the organizational structure without sponsoring district or resident district knowledge.

• Inappropriately claiming students as attending the charter school for purposes of the so-called "50 percent attendance" provisions required of charter schools that provide online courses.

• Student enrollment accounting practices which do not follow ADMw protocols and procedures as required.

• Lack of operational presence within the sponsoring district boundaries.

• Two or more charter schools governed by one charter agreement.

• Unlawfully merging charter schools.

• Improper commingling of funds between charter schools.

AllPrep director Tim King offered a detailed written response to the ODE letter (also available at www.nuggetnews.com).

In his response, King stated that "school law has developed around geographically defined, bricks-and-mortar schools and school districts, and it has not kept pace with recent educational innovations."

He said that, "this is a developing area, and that presents a lot of compliance challenges that don't exist for conventional schools."

King also acknowledged "some bumps in the road" for the start-up charters and vowed continual improvement.

Regarding transfer of students without parent notification and approval - one of the areas of contention in Sisters - King acknowledged that "there have been isolated problems with this in the past, but our current procedures require explicit written authorization, regardless of whether the transfer has any impact on a child's educational program."

King unequivocally stated that there has been no merger of charter schools and no commingling of funds among his charter schools and said that proposed legislation should clarify enrollment accounting practices.

While many of the concerns listed in the ODE letter originated with the Sisters School District, ODE spokesman Jake Weigler told The Nugget that concerns have also been raised by parties outside the school district.

According to Weigler, the school districts are accountable for the actions of the charter school operations; ODE would not invoke sanctions directly against EdChoices/AllPrep unless it violated some area of state law directly under ODE's responsibility. That leaves local districts on the hook for any impropriety.

"These are very serious issues, with serious consequences, that could result in possible forfeiture of State School Funds by the school district," Mileham stated.

ODE instructed districts to review their charter school practices, take necessary corrective action and ensure that charter schools meet state and federal law requirements. Response to the ODE letter is required by February 22.

The Sisters School District has terminated both the Sisters Web Academy and the Sisters Charter Academy of Fine Arts (SCAFA) - both of which are operated by AllPrep's Tim King.

Some in the community have questioned the move, noting that the charter schools bring financial benefits to the district in the form of funding for administration and offer valuable education alternatives for families.

Sisters School Board Chair Christine Jones acknowledged both the financial and educational benefits, but told The Nugget that the decision to terminate is based on other issues. in the case of SCAFA, the school has been unable to meet minimum enrollment requirements and demonstrate financial viability.

"In general, while it is true that the charters do not cost the district money, we are the sponsoring district of the charter and are thus responsible for making sure that that they follow all of ODE's rules and regulation regarding public school funds," Jones said. "We have taken steps to terminate the charters because we were not able to get satisfactory answers to our questions, be they questions of financial viability, student records, or financial practices. We recognize that the charters have the right to appeal the termination decisions, and we welcome ODE's involvement and guidance on the issues that we have raised."







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