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Epic Charter Schools board member resigns amid state audit fallout

Epic Charter Schools board member resigns amid state audit fallout

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One of Epic Charter Schools’ governing board members has resigned amid fallout from the state’s new investigative audit findings.

According to posted board agendas for Wednesday evening meetings of the Epic One-on-One and Epic Blended Learning Centers boards, Liberty Mitchell has resigned and the board will consider accepting applications for her replacement.

The Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector’s Oct. 1 report found oversight to be lacking on the part of Epic’s “handpicked” governing board members, selected by school co-founders David Chaney and Ben Harris, “whose for-profit school management company contract and performance should be overseen by an independent board,” the report states.

In all, $125.2 million of the $458 million allocated to Epic Charter Schools for educating students the past six years was found to have ended up in the coffers of Epic Youth Services, Chaney and Harris’ charter school management company, which reportedly has made them millionaires.

But auditors found no evidence that the board regularly reviews EYS’ performance, and financial transactions are approved after the fact with no invoices, bank statements or purchase orders provided for board review.

The same five members — Mitchell, Betsy Brown, Mike Cantrell, Adam Reynolds and Doug Scott — serve on the boards of both Epic One-on-One and Epic Blended Learning Centers, even though they are two different schools with different models and answer to separate charter school sponsors.

Boundaries between Epic’s two separate schools, their nonprofit governing board and for-profit management company EYS “continue to be blurred,” the auditor’s report says.

“Many EYS decisions are made without board approval or knowledge and, more often than not, those decisions benefit EYS,” the report states.

The State Auditor’s Office found that board members meet only quarterly as a matter of routine and then typically add one or two special meetings per year. The auditor said the overall attendance rate for board members is only 66%, or the equivalent of a D in school grading terms.

Mitchell’s attendance rate was reported at 75%.

“How does a board properly oversee one of the largest school districts in the state conducting four to six board meetings per year?” the report asks. “Not one meeting in a five-year period (Aug. 2015-May 2020) had all five board members been in attendance.” … “Many EYS decisions are made without board approval or knowledge and, more often than not, those decisions benefit EYS.”

Last week, the Oklahoma State Board of Education demanded $11.2 million back from Epic Charter Schools, and the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board entered into termination proceedings against Epic based on the state audit findings.

Those topics are set for discussion in public session as well as in a closed-door executive session at Epic’s governing board meetings on Wednesday evening.

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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