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Statewide virtual school board sets Epic Charter Schools termination proceedings for May
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Statewide virtual school board sets Epic Charter Schools termination proceedings for May

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In this screenshot from the online livestream of the meeting, Bill Hickman, attorney for Epic Charter Schools, appears before the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board in Oklahoma City on Tuesday.

The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board has voted to move ahead with contract termination proceedings against Epic Charter Schools in a two-day trial set for May 12-13.

At a Tuesday afternoon meeting, all three board members present also voted to deny Epic’s motion to dismiss the termination proceedings altogether.

In late October, the board heeded the recommendation of Oklahoma Assistant Attorney General Marie Schuble and voted to begin proceedings to determine whether Epic had violated the terms of its contract and should lose its sponsorship for Oklahoma’s largest online public school, Epic One-on-One.

The move was based on new investigative audit findings from the state that found Epic’s operators might have violated various state laws and their contract terms for fiscal management, as well as for “good cause.”

Previously, hearing dates set for January and then March were canceled, but in moving to go ahead with the trial in May, board Chair Robert Franklin said he believes that Epic One-on-One’s 30,000-plus students and their parents deserve to know the outcome of the contract dispute in a timely fashion.

“There are a lot of families and a lot of folks waiting for us to make these decisions,” Franklin said.

Both Schuble, whose role will be to present a case for contract termination, and Bill Hickman, the attorney defending Epic in the matter, objected to the board’s scheduling only two days in May for the proceedings. The possibility of as many as four days had been discussed in the fall.

“I would challenge you — because this has been on the radar for a very, very long time — I would challenge you as experienced legal counsel and attorneys to get to that two days,” Franklin responded. “We will be as fair and impartial as possible.”

Mathew Hamrick and Phyllis Shepherd, the two members of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board who were absent from Tuesday’s meeting, have been barred by a vote of their fellow members from discussions, debates and votes on all Epic Charter Schools matters over conflict-of-interest concerns.

The state auditor and inspector’s Oct. 1 report found chronically inaccurate cost accounting by Epic to state education officials that reportedly allowed school co-founders Ben Harris and David Chaney to boost their personal earnings by nearly $2 million through their for-profit charter school management company.

And that for-profit company, Epic Youth Services, was found to have “improperly transferred” $203,000 in Oklahoma taxpayer dollars from the student Learning Fund account to help cover payroll shortages at Epic’s California charter school.

Epic One-on-One was founded in 2010 and is currently authorized by the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board.

A few years ago, Epic added Epic Blended Learning Centers, a separate school model sponsored by Rose State College that offers students in Tulsa and Oklahoma counties a blend of at-home and in-classroom studies.

The state’s forensic audit also states that Epic has improperly comingled, or mixed, public dollars allocated for its two separate charter schools, despite terms in Epic’s sponsorship contracts prohibiting comingling of funds or requiring separate accounts.

The Oklahoma State Board of Education, which accredits all public schools in Oklahoma, has demanded back $11.2 million in taxpayer funds based on the state’s investigative audit.

Featured video: Statewide board begins contract termination proceedings against Epic

Statewide board begins contract termination proceedings against Epic Charter Schools.

Epic Charter Schools: A Tulsa World investigation

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Staff Writer

I'm a projects reporter, examining key education topics and other local issues. Since joining the Tulsa World in 1999, I have been a three-time winner of Oklahoma’s top award for investigative reporting by an individual. Phone: 918-581-8470

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