COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- The Colorado Attorney General's Office issued the board members of a Colorado Springs charter school a "cease and desist demand" following accusations of mishandling school funds and violating board policies.
A letter from the Colorado Attorney General's Office sent to Colorado Springs Charter Academy's (CSCA) Head of School and School Board President on April 22nd demands that the charter school’s board stop appointing new board members until further notice due to a breach of contract with the Colorado Charter School Institute (CSI).
The CSI, who is actively investigating the accusations, says one of the charter school’s board members was allowed to become a signer for their operating account, access to the school’s accounting system, and possessed a $50,000 credit card without the proper authorization.
Board members are also accused of directing charter school staff to pay invoices without prior approval from the head of school.
The letter goes on to say two CSCA board members were allowed to unilaterally direct payment for off-budget facilities expenses.
“These payments are particularly alarming because (1) they appear to have placed the school over budget in violation of § 22-44-115, C.R.S., exposing the school to significant legal jeopardy, and (2) CSI has been told (but has not been able to confirm) that the facilities staff were fired last year, hired back at the insistence of these board members, and are personal friends of one or more of these board members. Further, CSI has been told (but has not been able to confirm) that some of the unauthorized expenditures are for the renovation of rental houses on the CSCA campus at which personal friends or family of these board members may be temporarily residing,” the letter from the Attorney General’s Office stated.
On top of the financial concerns, CSI says the CSCA board violated its by-laws. The CSCA board failed to follow its own voting practices on new board members and prohibited individual board members from directing staff in the performance of their duties.
The letter orders the CSCA board to pause all payments on facility-related expenses other than those that are necessary to the health and safety of those using the buildings.
Inappropriate board member access to bank accounts, accounting, and purchasing authority has already been removed according to the letter.
The board is also ordered to find evidence for the method of appointment and reappointment for each current board member at CSCA, and produce an explanation for why the appointment conforms to the CSCA board’s own board member appointment policy. They are also required to call a special election to fill any posts that were improperly filled within 30 days of the April 22nd letter.
If the CSCA board disregards the demands within the letter, CSI says they will take control of the charter school’s finances, and potentially remove or replace board members.
CSCA Board Treasurer Summer Groubert calls the letter and accusations an "intimidation effort." Groubert says all she is always acted within her role as treasurer as it's laid out in CSCA board policy.
"We can refer to our bylaws where that's very clearly stated," Groubert told 13 Investigates. "CSI is actually trying to take our tax dollars and move them to our friends and colleagues and we are considering moving under D11."
Groubert believes their potential move from CSI to D11 sparked retaliation from the state's own Charter School Institute.
“CSI is in regular communication with the school and we continue to offer support as they work to address the outlined concerns,” Terry Lewis, the Executive Director of CSI told 13 Investigates in an email. “Additionally, CSI's investigation is ongoing until we receive the required remedies and have an opportunity to thoroughly review them.”
Lewis was unavailable to respond to the Charter School Board Treasurer's intimidation concerns.
The CSCA attorney provided the following statement to 13 Investigates.
The Board of Colorado Springs Charter Academy (CSCA) takes the allegations contained in the Notice of Breach from the Charter School Institute (CSI) seriously and intends to fully cooperate with CSI's investigation. Prior to receiving the Notice of Breach, CSCA took steps to insure financial oversight of its funds and has no reason to believe those funds are being missused. CSCA also believes that it's Board members should be treated with respect and given the benefit of the doubt while at the same time cooperating with CSI's investigation. It is important to the CSCA Board that their focus remains on educating students while the school also works with CSI toward ensuring taxpayers that their money is being used for the purposes for which it has been allocated.Dustin Sparks, Managing Member of the Charter School Law Group, legal counsel for Colorado Springs Charter Academy