After an executive session during Tuesday’s meeting, the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board unanimously voted to deny Epic Charter School’s motion for summary judgement regarding the board’s intent to hold a termination hearing on Epic’s charter authorization. The board also approved May 12 and May 13 as new dates for the charter termination hearing.
“I would like to propose a motion to deny the summary judgement, as the board has not adopted the rules that allow the board to consider motions for summary judgement,” SVCSB member Robert Franklin said during the meeting.
Epic’s attorney, Bill Hickman, and the SVCSB’s legal counsel, Assistant Attorney General Marie Schuble, both argued that two days would not be an adequate amount of time for the hearing.
“I don’t want to be rushed at a trial that deals with the lives of 30,000-plus children, teachers and staff,” Hickman said. “I think this is more important than that and deserves the time that it takes.”
Franklin said it would be difficult for colleagues to set aside four days for the trial and that the issue has been on everyone’s radar for a long time.
“I’m going to ask that you watch this process, and we will be as fair and impartial as can possibly be as a board to give you the due time,” Franklin said. “But, that’s going to challenge you as legal counsel and experienced and seasoned veterans to bring the information in that way that represents your client very fairly, and we will give you that time. I think if we begin with the two days, we have to say that’s our perimeter, we’ll work toward that end.”
Arguments surrounding motion for summary judgement
In October, the SVCSB approved a motion to enter the process of terminating the board’s charter authorization contract with Epic One-on-One owing to alleged contract violations, including a failure to meet the standards of fiscal management and alleged violations of local, state, federal and tribal law. The termination hearing was originally slated for March 8-11. In February, Epic filed a motion for summary judgement asking the SVCSB to dismiss certain allegations.
During today’s meeting, Franklin provided Hickman with 10 minutes to present the motion after Hickman argued during public comments that he had not yet been allowed to present on the motion.
“I was advised prior to this meeting (…) that my motion for summary judgement would be on the agenda, but in reviewing the agenda it appears to be that it’s only on there for an executive session discussion and not for a public presentation and therefore not going to be transparent to the public,” Hickman said Tuesday. “We’re simply seeking a fair and equitable process.”
One of the requests in Epic’s motion for summary judgement is to have the entire notice to terminate charter authorization dismissed by the SVCSB owing to alleged conflicts of interest with the board’s previous chairman, John Harrington.
“That is the reason why we think this board should dismiss the notice in total,” Hickman said. “If Mr. Harrington had recused or been forced to recuse, like Mr. Hamrick and like Ms. Shepherd, there would not have been three votes to start this process.”
The motion also asserted that the SVCSB was aware of the sharing of administrative services between Epic One-on-One and Epic California and that Epic had made an inter-company agreement with CS-CA to share these resources as early as 2015. The document also claimed that Schuble presented the inter-company agreement to the board at a meeting on Aug. 9, 2016.
“The virtual board knew of shared administrative resources for five years. Seven times Epic discussed or notified the virtual board of the administrative resource sharing. Zero times were concerns expressed to Epic,” Hickman said. “That agreement to share services with Community Strategies-California was actually presented to this virtual board by the now prosecutor, your lawyer, who explained and answered questions from board members about how Epic was going to do shared services. Now we’re being terminated for what we brought to you and presented to you.”
Further, the request for summary judgement asserted that since Epic’s controversial “learning fund,” which contains state appropriations but is managed by a private company owned by Epic’s co-founders, is currently in litigation with the State Auditor & Inspector’s Office and SVCSB members have reviewed the fund and how it’s managed, that situation should not be used as grounds for charter authorization termination.
Schuble was given the opportunity to respond to Hickman’s comments, saying that since the case against Epic is governed by administrative law and agency rules, and not civil law, that a motion for summary judgement is not a proper motion and should not be considered.
“A motion for summary judgement is not the appropriate time to try to disprove the state’s case. This board deserves the chance to hear the evidence presented by both sides at a hearing,” Schuble said. “When this board voted to proceed with the notice of intent to terminate it voted that if the notice in the allegations were proven true at the hearing they would constitute violations of the charter contract. That is the issue to be decided at hearing.”
Schuble went on to dispute the claim by Epic in the motion that since the SVCSB was aware of the intercompany agreement Epic had with CS-CA that they had approved it.
“Epic’s motion tries to make a big deal of the presentation I made to the board in 2016 about the Community Strategies contract. Epic tries to imply that this board’s knowledge of this contract means they approved it,” Schuble said. “The presentation I made to the board about the existence of the contract was in 2016, and that’s important. It was simply an informational presentation because this board does not have the authority to accept or reject third-party contracts.”
She said in 2016, Epic’s charter contract was inherited from their sponsor prior to the SVCSB, and contained very few restrictions on how Epic could operate and excluded terms found in the current contract.
“Epic’s current contract, the one at issue in this matter, went into effect in July 2018, two years after the presentation that Epic is making such a big deal about,” Schuble said. “It is not up to me or this board to make sure that Epic’s contract dealings from two years prior are in compliance with the terms of a new contract that they agreed to. That is up to their attorney and leadership to make sure that their actions and business dealings are in compliance with the terms of a contract that they agreed to with this board.”
Schuble also said there wasn’t any evidence provided by Epic in the summary judgement to support the allegation of conflicts of interest regarding Harrington and that the proceedings regarding the learning fund are separate.
“Epic’s motion tries to shift blame to other state agencies stating that these agencies have had access to Epic’s financial and never told them what they’re doing is wrong. This argument supports nothing,” Schuble said. “The allegations contained within the notice of intent to terminate come from the findings of the State Auditor’s investigative audit.”
Epic’s response to Tuesday’s denial
Epic provided a statement to NonDoc from Superintendent Bart Banfield after Tuesday’s meeting.
“All we have ever sought in this process is fairness and transparency. We are confident the facts are on our side,” Banfield’s statement read. “We have concerns a hearing, which includes cross examination on both sides, can take place in two days, as well as hearings on motions. We have indicated we want to cooperate and meaningfully engage with our One-on-One charter authorizer and remain committed to doing everything in our power to do just that.”