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Two board members barred from all Epic Charter Schools matters over conflict-of-interest concerns

Two board members barred from all Epic Charter Schools matters over conflict-of-interest concerns

Statewide Virtual Charter School Board meeting

Members of the of Statewide Virtual Charter School Board meet on Tuesday in Oklahoma City. 

Two members of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board will be barred from all future Epic Charter Schools matters over conflict-of-interest concerns.

In two separate votes on Tuesday, the board voted 3-2 to recuse Mathew Hamrick and Phyllis Shepherd from discussions, debates and votes on Epic One-on-One, Oklahoma’s largest virtual school.

Hamrick and Shepherd cast the “no” votes in both instances.

The issue was originally set to be taken up at a November meeting, but that meeting was canceled after Gov. Kevin Stitt removed then-board chairman John Harrington, who recently led the initiation of termination proceedings against Epic Charter Schools as well as the challenges against Hamrick and Shepherd about potential conflicts of interest with Epic.

Stitt’s new appointee, Brandon Tatum, former president of Oklahoma Christian Academy and now founder and CEO of CONNECTedu and chair of the National Christian School Association Board of Trustees, voted in favor of the recusals of Hamrick and Shepherd on Tuesday.

Also voting in favor were acting board chair Robert Franklin and member Barry Beauchamp.

In September, Hamrick 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 in taxpayer dollars to date budgeted for student learning.

As previously reported by the Tulsa World, records from the Oklahoma Ethics Commission show that Epic co-founder David Chaney contributed to Hamrick’s 2017 campaign for Senate District 45, which he lost.

Hamrick told his fellow board members on Tuesday that he saw no issue with his unsuccessful campaign or with listening to the concerns of virtual school stakeholders, in the course of his personal deliberation process as a board member.

Franklin said he felt the recusal of Hamrick was appropriate given the actions Hamrick took after private discussions he has admitted to having with Epic school leaders about matters coming before the statewide virtual board.

In late October, Assistant Attorney General Marie Schuble recommended that the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board enter into termination proceedings against Epic, the operator of Oklahoma’s largest online public school, called Epic One-on-One, based on the state’s new investigative audit findings that Epic’s operators might have violated fiscal management standards in their contract and various state laws, as well as for “good cause.”

The board voted 3-1 in favor, with Shepherd casting the lone “no” vote and Hamrick absent from the October meeting.

As first reported in the Tulsa World, Shepherd is a relative of Chaney, one of Epic’s two co-founders, who reportedly have become millionaires through their deal to manage the school.

As for the termination hearings against Epic, Schuble told the virtual board that the original date set for January has been pushed back to early March because of her own personal scheduling conflict.

At the close of Tuesday’s meeting, the board voted unanimously to elect Franklin as its new chair and Tatum as vice chair.

Epic Charter Schools: A Tulsa World investigation.

Video: State auditor releases Epic Charter Schools 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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