Epic Charter Schools was just given four additional months to grapple with how it might fully comply with a settlement agreement that preserved its sponsorship by the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board.
At issue is the fact that Epic has maintained one single governing board with the same members for both of its two legally separate schools while the two schools share administrators and many teachers.
Because state funds for the two schools were found to have been commingled in previous years, the terms of its 2-month-old consent agreement with the virtual board require Epic to have shared service agreements — approved by independent school governing boards — if it continues to share employees.
After Tuesday’s meeting of the virtual school board, Epic Superintendent Bart Banfield expressed some frustration but said the school’s leadership will use the extra time just allotted to contemplate whether Epic’s two schools should even have two separate local governing boards — or whether it should pursue even more radical change as one single school.
“We’ve already undergone so much change before this consent agreement was ever contemplated,” Banfield said. “But this gives us more time for conversation, both for us and with them (the statewide virtual board).”
The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board sponsors Epic One-on-One, Oklahoma’s largest online public school, and five other smaller statewide virtual charter schools, which are all open to any child living in Oklahoma.
Meanwhile, Epic Blended Learning Centers, which enrolls the vast majority of Epic students in Tulsa and Oklahoma counties, are sponsored by Rose State College.
Epic had asked for 12 months to prove that its own internally imposed split in banking, invoicing and payroll would suffice, but members of the statewide board balked at that notion.
Ultimately, the board voted to give Epic until the board’s November meeting before it would determine whether the school is in full compliance with the settlement agreement terms.
Several board members commended the district’s newly adopted fiscal policies, although as member Barry Beauchamp, a retired superintendent from Lawton, put it, “we may have not gotten all the way from A to Z at this point.”
“It’s not in full compliance with what the settlement agreement requires,” agreed Board Chair Robert Franklin, who is an associate superintendent at Tulsa Tech. “For us to extend … more months is a matter of trust to me. This is not to be dismissive of the heavy lift you’ve done.”
The board had pursued contract termination proceedings against Epic over its handling of public funds in previous years and alleged contract violations revealed in October forensic audit findings by Oklahoma’s State Auditor and Inspector’s Office.
Assistant Attorney General Marie Schuble, the board’s legal adviser, said during Tuesday’s meeting that the settlement agreement “is not over” until Epic meets the agreement terms for shared services between its two schools.
Also on Tuesday, two members of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board had their voting privileges on Epic matters reinstated by unanimous votes of their fellow board members.
In January, Mathew Hamrick and Phyllis Shepherd were barred by a vote of their fellow members from discussions, debates and votes on all Epic Charter Schools-related matters over conflict-of-interest concerns.
In September, Hamrick, the former board chair, was censured and removed from the board’s newly formed audit committee in a vote by his fellow board members.
At that time, he was accused of intentionally avoiding public votes by the board in 2019 and 2020 on matters seeking to unmask Epic’s use of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars budgeted for student learning.
As first reported in the Tulsa World, Hamrick also accepted campaign contributions from Epic co-founder David Chaney in his failed 2017 campaign for Oklahoma State Senate District 45, and Shepherd, who was absent from Tuesday’s meeting, is a relative of Chaney’s.
Franklin said on Tuesday that the matter had been addressed by virtue of Epic’s governing board’s formally severing ties with Chaney and the school management company called Epic Youth Services that reportedly made millionaires of Chaney and co-founder Ben Harris.