The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board met Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, and approved the recusal of two board members from voting on matters regarding Epic One-on-One Charter School. (Screenshot)

The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board approved a motion today to recuse board members Phyllis Shepherd and Mathew Hamrick from voting on matters related to Epic One-on-One Charter Schools and hearing updates on the process to terminate the board’s charter authorization agreement with Epic.

Legal counsel for SVCSB and Assistant Attorney General Marie Schuble told the board that the termination hearing will take place March 8-11.

At an October meeting, the SVCSB voted to enter termination proceedings with Epic One-on-One owing to alleged contract violations, including the failure to meet the standards of fiscal management set forth in terms of the contract as well as alleged violations of local, state, federal and tribal law.

During the March hearing, Schuble will present evidence to show contract violations, and Epic attorneys will be allowed to present evidence and argument as to why the contract should not be terminated.

‘There is nothing monetary that comes to me’

Tuesday, the board voted 3-2 to recuse board members Phyllis Shepherd and Mathew Hamrick from all matters regarding Epic One-on-One, owing to alleged conflicts of interest.

Hamrick and Shepherd were the only votes against the motion.

The Tulsa World discovered in October that Shepherd is the aunt of Epic co-founder David Chaney through social media posts in October.

“I think we put ourselves at this point today because of the disclosure that has happened through media attention that was not disclosed by Ms. Shepherd in our board training individually with our legal counsel where we talk about our ethical principles and we talk about conflicts of interest,” acting SVCSB chairperson Robert Franklin said. “That was not disclosed.”

During the meeting, Shepherd defended her position on the board saying she is a half-great aunt of Chaney and has no financial interest in Epic’s affairs.

“I have no financial interest in his affairs or the affairs of Epic, and I do not consider him close family,” Shepherd said. “We have not violated my own conscious. My voting record does not demonstrate any impartial votes and, in fact, I have voted against the interest of Epic Charter Schools more than once.”

According to the Epic audit, Hamrick received political contributions from Chaney for his Senate District 45 Senate campaign. During the meeting, Hamrick said there certainly is a small campaign donation from Chaney to his campaign on record, but he said the money wasn’t for him personally.

“I did not receive any benefit from it for myself or for my family. That was merely towards the expenses of running a campaign,” Hamrick said. “From the standpoint of that campaign, it was not successful, but it also certainly had no control over the way that I think or approach things. There is nothing monetary that comes to me based on what I do or don’t do as a board member.”

A letter from a legal representative for Shepherd and Hamrick was sent to Schuble and the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office last week. In the letter, John Paul Jordan with The Jordan Law Firm expressed there was nothing that would prevent Shepherd of Hamrick from “exercising their full duties as board members of the SVCSB.”

“This would include participating and voting on the board’s current review of Epic or the regular matters in the course of business of the SVCSB such as the election of officers prior to the statutory deadline of Dec. 31,” Jordan’s letter stated.

But Hamrick’s position on Epic matters has been questioned before. In September, other board members censured and removed Hamrick from the SVCSB audit committee because they said he missed votes about Epic and had signed an affidavit supporting Epic’s position that some of the money it receives from the state can be kept in a private management company with no public oversight.

SVCSB relationship with Epic One-on-One

Epic One-on-One has been under the oversight of SVCSB since April 2014. The charter was most recently renewed in July 2018. Charter authorizers are allowed to retain up to 5 percent of state aid received from the State Department of Education, with a remainder of the funds being transferred to the charter schools.

The SVCSB was created in 2012 and authorizes multiple charter schools in Oklahoma, including Epic, E-School Virtual Charter Academy, Insight School of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Connections
Academy, Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy and the Oklahoma Information and Technology School.