A deal has been reached to end sponsorship termination proceedings against Oklahoma’s largest online charter school.
In a teleconference meeting lasting less than 15 minutes, the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted without debate or discussion Monday afternoon to approve a consent agreement with Epic Charter Schools.
Epic Charter Schools’ board previously approved the proposal Wednesday night by a 4-0 vote.
The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board also voted to cancel a previously scheduled termination hearing scheduled for May 12-13. Along with five other online charter schools, the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board is the sponsor of Epic One-on-One.
Oklahoma’s charter law school requires charter schools to have a sponsoring entity, such as a school district, tribe, university or state governing board.
As per the terms of the settlement, a compliance auditor will have access to Epic’s financial documents, policies and procedures, including Epic One-on-One’s Learning Fund records. That auditor will provide monthly reports to the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board as to whether the charter school is complying with the terms of the settlement.
Attorneys for Epic’s longtime school management company have been in Oklahoma County District Court trying to block access to records of Epic’s student Learning Fund spending to date by Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd. Come July 1, those funds are scheduled to be in new bank accounts that are strictly under the control of school personnel.
The settlement explicitly requires Epic One-on-One’s staff and governing board to provide not only “unfettered” access to original documents, but also space and equipment needed in order to monitor compliance.
Additionally, the two charter schools under the Epic umbrella, Epic One-on-One and Epic Blended, are to be formally treated as separate school districts, complete with separate sponsorship agreements, governing boards, school leaders, faculties and financial records.
Epic One-on-One is wholly online, while Epic Blended Learning Centers enroll most Epic students in Tulsa and Oklahoma counties under the sponsorship of Rose State College. However, Byrd’s audit report noted that Epic Charter Schools had improperly comingled, or mixed, public dollars allocated for the pair, despite terms in both of its sponsorship contracts prohibiting the comingling of funds or requiring separate accounts.
Although the two will be allowed to have agreements for shared services, such as specific employees or testing sites, the settlement requires separate, individualized pacts for every item or contract shared between the two.
Proceedings to consider terminating Epic One-on-One’s sponsorship over alleged contract violations began in October in light of a forensic audit conducted by Byrd’s office at the request of Gov. Kevin Stitt, which indicated that Epic’s operators might have violated various state laws and the terms of the operating contracts.
In a written statement issued after the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board’s meeting, Epic Superintendent Bart Banfield said he welcomed the board’s approval of the settlement.
“Our team is now excited and ready to turn the page on what has been a turbulent chapter,” he said. “We believe the 2021-2022 school year will be our best yet and show our commitment to having a positive, collaborative relationship with the SVCSB, the State Department of Education and our other partners and sponsors.”