For its upcoming school year, the Justice Alma Wilson Seeworth Academy will be operated by Oklahoma City Public Schools after allegations of financial mismanagement caused the school’s charter to be dissolved.
Starting June 30, OKCPS will begin the transition of taking over Seeworth Academy, and the charter school’s board of directors will be terminated. Friday, the board heard a presentation from Andy Evans, director of finance for the Oklahoma Public Schools Resource Center, a non-profit that works to increase academic achievement in Oklahoma’s public school education system.
Seeworth Academy had been a member of OPSRC, and OKCPS has now hired the organization to oversee the transition processes.
“We will be meeting with the transition team next week in order to further facilitate this process,” Seeworth Academy Board President Lee Anne Wilson said in a statement to NonDoc. “As always, our main concern is to continue to provide a quality education for our students.”
Seeworth board members reminded to follow Open Meeting Act
Wilson’s statement came after multiple board members declined to comment about the transition process earlier Friday, and a woman who identified herself as a Seeworth volunteer initially said she had been instructed to tell journalists they were not allowed at the school’s board meeting. She ultimately sought a second opinion and provided access to the meeting.
The board of directors had originally been prepared to meet Wednesday, but the meeting was postponed to 11 a.m. Friday without public explanation. The original agenda posted ahead of Wednesday’s scheduled meeting did not list an official time, a violation of Oklahoma’s Open Meeting Act.
Shortly after the start of Friday’s meeting, Evans advised Seeworth board members to transfer their authority for student records, personnel records, bank records, board records and all inventory and property to OKCPS.
Meanwhile, Sherry Kishore, acting superintendent of Seeworth, was approved as interim executive director. Kishore was voted by the board as signatory on the school’s bank accounts along with Wilson.
Proposed and unanimously approved Friday, a “transition meeting” is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday, June 20. The final meeting for the board is set for 11 a.m. June 26. Evans told board members during Friday’s meeting that they are responsible for properly posting agendas, which will be provided to them, and adhering to Open Meeting Act requirements.
Seeworth’s board will continue to have control of the school’s bank accounts during the transition with OKCPS, Evans said. The bank accounts will remain intact until OKCPS completes its final audit, which will be presented in the June 26 meeting. When the audit is presented to Seeworth’s board, Evans said all remaining revenue from state and federal funds will be transferred to OKCPS.
All Seeworth board members present — Wilson, board vice president Patricia Kelley, board secretary Beverly Patchell, Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals Judge Barbara Swinton and Sen. Kay Floyd (D-OKC) — declined to comment immediately after the meeting. Floyd and Wilson both said they were late for other meetings.
Wilson remained in the building for about an hour but still declined to discuss the school’s situation after her other meeting concluded.
“You have to leave,” Wilson said.
Wilson ultimately chose to provide the statement above, which also noted appreciation for Evans’ presentation.
Brent Bushey, executive director of OPSRC, told NonDoc he is supportive of OKCPS taking over Seeworth Academy.
“Seeworth has been serving the most challenged kids, so the focus should be that those kids get the proper services,” Bushey said. “I hope the district can do a good job.”
The following document was presented by Evans at Friday’s meeting, though board members approved a June 20 meeting date instead of the the June 19 date listed on the document.
Review showed financial issues at SeeWorth Academy
Founded in 1998, Seeworth Academy charter school aimed to serve at-risk students.
However, “multiple artifacts to demonstrate gross neglect and non-compliance with both state and federal laws and regulations” were found at the charter school, according to letter sent to Seeworth from the Oklahoma State Department of Education on May 2.
According to the letter (embedded below), OSDE conducted a review in March of activities associated with the school’s federal program funds. There, OSDE found evidence that the school failed to account for taxpayer dollars, failed to maintain accounting records and failed to provide services to students with disabilities in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The school obtained the Preliminary Monitoring Report on March 19. OSDE requested that documentation correcting the deficiencies be provided by May 3, but that demand was not met, according to the May 2 letter. But a spokesperson for OSDE confirmed to NonDoc that the school was given an extension and ultimately turned in the documents.
“The OSDE has made phone calls and sent requests for any such supplemental information that the school has in its possession,” the letter said. “However, to date, responses have not been received.”
According to the letter, the special education director for the school was assigned a student caseload of five times the allowable limits in law.
Also, 64 percent of students on an Individualized Education Program (IEP) did not have complete secondary transition plans as required by federal law, and at least 40 students did not have accommodations listed in the IEP for required assessments.
While monitoring the campus, OSDE staff obtained a list of problematic purchase orders, according to the letter.
These included purchase orders from Walmart, Office Depot and IPFS Corporation, which was described as a reimbursement entity for the school’s “corporate account.”
According to the May 2 letter, SeeWorth Academy staff could not provide information about the “corporate account” or other financial records, because all records were kept at a private residence in Talihina, Oklahoma, 189 miles from the school.
OSDE demanded those records by May 6, and a spokesperson for OSDE confirmed to NonDoc that the school had submitted the documents by an extended deadline.
“The OSDE has reason to believe that the School may intend to destroy documentation,” the letter said. “Please be advised that any action and conduct to alter or destroy a record may be a violation of law and/or deemed to interfere with OSDE’s obligations and authority to review these matters.”
Ultimately, the school would face closure.
“When problems like this happen, the benefit of a charter school is that they can be closed,” Bushey said.
(Editor’s note: Tres Savage contributed to this report. The Oklahoma Public School Resource Center has purchased advertising on NonDoc in 2019.)
(Correction: This story was updated at 9:40 a.m. Saturday, June 15, to reflect the correct June 20 meeting date.)